“While deployed, I focus on my people, my mission, and completing my job successfully. I bring that same level of focus to work every day at the USPTO.”
Military servicemen and women engage in acts of heroism every day in defense of our country. That kind of bravery and fortitude in the face of vast uncertainty and peril both at home and abroad, yields a debt of gratitude from their fellow Americans that can never truly be repaid. Thanks to their sacrifices, we enjoy inalienable rights and freedoms of expression. We are free to explore and try new things, and we are free to dream of ways to improve lives and advance humanity.
As America’s Innovation Agency, fulfilling dreams happens to be what the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) does best.
Continuity of Service to the country
For Supervisory Patent Examiner and U.S. Army Reserves Colonel (COL)(O6) Anhtuan, working at the USPTO to help inventors’ dreams come true has been one of the best and most rewarding career decisions he’s ever made…after having joined the Army, of course.
As the agency that’s Constitutionally bound to protect American intellectual property (IP), the USPTO has been granting patents and registering trademarks—licenses for inventors and innovators to exclusively sell their proprietary goods and services to the public—for more than 200 years. Under this system of protection, American industry has flourished. New products have been invented, new uses for old ones discovered, and employment opportunities have been created for millions of Americans. The strength and vitality of the U.S. economy depends directly on effective mechanisms that protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity. The continued demand for patents and trademarks underscores the ingenuity of American inventors and entrepreneurs. Since its inception, the USPTO has been at the cutting edge of the nation's technological progress and achievement.
And that, says Anhtuan, is what he loves most about his civilian career. He likes being at the epicenter of innovation in America and helping to safeguard American ingenuity. Anhtuan highly encourages other service members to consider joining the USPTO for that same reason. “IP evolves in real time,” he says. “As inventors ask themselves, ‘how can I help humans live healthier, longer lives more efficiently?’ intellectual property has to stay on top of that. We’re here to protect those new and novel ideas,” he says.
Protecting medical innovations that impact humanity
Since joining the USPTO in 1995, Anhtuan has examined thousands of patents for medical devices and inventions that contribute in some way to helping people and advancing humanity. He has issued a full spectrum of medical and surgical-related patents for everything from vitamin-sized body cameras that assist surgeons during and post surgeries; and computers that can ‘talk’ to doctors; to single-use syringes with needles that retract into the barrel after medication is administered into the body.
“Patents are everywhere!” says Anhtuan. Millions of ancillary medical inventions as well as life-saving medications, including vaccines, contribute to the IP ecosystem that passes through the dockets of USPTO’s examiners. The agency’s work is vitally important to sustaining the American economy, and facilitating the protection of much-needed solutions to humanity’s most challenging health crises.
As Anhtuan explains it, by granting exclusivity rights for inventions that improve lives—or save them—innovations can equitably enter the global market and make the world a better place.
So fitting, then, that he chose a civilian career in public service as a way to continue serving his country. After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) with a degree in civil engineering and working at a structural engineering firm in D.C. for a short time, the decision to join a fellow “brother rat” (aka classmate) from VMI who was already working as a patent examiner became crystal clear to Anhtuan.
“The similarity is in taking care of people and mission,” he says. “Being in the Army allows me to appreciate my job at the USPTO, and to comprehend and appreciate the freedom many people enjoy daily. Many Americans do not realize that our brothers and sisters in arms are in harm’s way every day keeping us free.”
Veteran success at the USPTO
Anhtuan’s time at the USPTO has been the perfect fit as he continues to serve in his nearly 30-year career with the Army as a Reservist. “The USPTO offers me a flexible, predictable schedule that allows me to serve when the Army needs me.”
According to Anhtuan, the USPTO is unlike any other government job. The organization operates in many ways like a private sector company. As a fee-funded agency that does not rely on tax-payer dollars to function, the USPTO can remain in operation even through times of fiscal disruption. At the same time, the agency must compete with the technology sector for talent using what tools it has available, including telecommuting options and flexible schedules. That translates into job security and better work-life balance for its workforce of nearly 13,000 employees. During periods of uncertainty, as experienced globally in 2020, that can be reassuring, says Anhtuan.
But what really makes the USPTO special, he adds, are the people. In addition to offering a rich culture of diversity and inclusion for all employees, the agency has prioritized and carefully crafted a safe, secure, and nurturing environment for transitioning veterans who juggle competing priorities and military obligations.
For Anhtuan, the USPTO has made good on its employee promise to help veterans achieve unparalleled work/life balance and advance their careers while providing meaningful opportunities for them to pursue their passions and perform their duties.
Community as a lifeline at the USPTO
Having a community of coworkers who know and respect what you do to serve the country is a linchpin of veteran success at the USPTO. And that community is especially critical when service members are called into active duty. “The USPTO is filled with great people who understand the sacrifices that you have to make in order to balance your military life, your personal life, and your life at the agency,” says Anhtuan.
Anhtuan has served in multiple deployments throughout his tenure at the USPTO. When you are a Reservist, deployments can be a weekend per month, or they could last for several weeks at a time or even a year or more, he says.
Some of his longest tours were to Iraq for 15 months (from late 2007 through the beginning of 2009) and eight months when deployed to Afghanistan in 2018. Anhtuan was deployed for a few days to support the 59th Presidential Inauguration alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). And more recently, he was on extended mobilization orders working at FEMA National headquarters in Washington, D.C. to support FEMA’s nationwide COVID-19 vaccination support effort. In each case, Anhtuan’s coworkers stepped in to cover his supervisory duties while he was away. No matter the length of deployment, coverage for work is tantamount to ensuring that the USPTO can sustain its operations for optimal mission enablement. Everyone simply falls in line.
Upon return from that same 15-month deployment to Iraq, he candidly shared that it took him a long time to get his “head back in the game.” His coworkers and fellow vets were with him every step of the way. Anhtuan says that frequent, in-depth talks with supervisors and the support from fellow members from the USPTO Military Association helped him navigate life after being on tour.
“Your life can be upside down when you get home. At the USPTO, it’s a team effort to provide the special attention and safety nets that you may need to mentally reset and get your job done,” he says. “While deployed, I focus on my people, my mission, and completing my job successfully. I bring that same level of focus to work every day at the USPTO,” he adds.
A life of 'LDRSHIP'
What also helps to keep him grounded? Anhtuan has lived his life by the seven Army values known by the acronym of LDRSHIP – Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal courage. “The VMI disciplined me,” he says. “But the Army continues to give me opportunities to thrive, follow, lead, mentor, train, give back, and learn from my mistakes and excel both personally and professionally.”
As he climbed the military ladder to become a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, Anhtuan also climbed the examination ladder. He began as a GS-7 entry-level patent examiner and now serves as a Supervisory Patent Examiner who manages a team of 18 examiners. He shares his experience with new hires to help them get acclimated and understand what’s expected of them.
Patent examination is prescriptive work. It can be “non-glamorous and lonely,” says Anhtuan. Every day you do the same thing: you read, research, discuss claims with inventors and/or their attorneys, and write detailed findings and conclusions on patentability. And repeat. There are performance goals and timelines that need to be met. And, yes, there are strict metrics to track that high-quality standards and timeliness are applied to every case. It’s typical for some new examiners to struggle under the pressures of production. Sometimes, the job can be lonely since it’s largely autonomous.
When he was a new examiner, Anhtuan successfully applied his military training from VMI and the Army that taught him to be disciplined, forthright, and to work with integrity.
His advice to new examiners that he manages is consistent: don’t give up! He says that the process of examination gets better and more efficient with time. Other very important attributes to carry forward from military service into a career at the USPTO are:
- Honesty. Be honest with your customers/stakeholders (i.e. filers), your colleagues and most importantly, he says, with yourself.
- Knowing when – and how -- to use your voice. Don’t be too shy to ask questions. If you need clarity about what you’re reading in an application or if you’re struggling, let your supervisor know. But most importantly, come ready to discuss any issues with recommended solutions in hand.
- Show respect to your stakeholders by examining the cases correctly. Do the right thing based on your patent examiner training and your understanding of the Manual of Patent Examination and Procedures.
- Camaraderie amongst the veteran community at the USPTO is a lifeline offering a sense of belonging to new hires and seasoned staff alike. Anhtuan was among the founding members of the USPTO Military Association in 2012 and encourages any new veteran hired to join. “Not only is it a good time to meet new people and share ‘war stories,’ but it is the ability to simply listen and/or to lend a helping hand to a fellow worker or a deploying military member,” he says.