"The beauty of the USPTO is that there’s a lot of independent work and schedule flexibilities that you just don’t get at other workplaces."
Keyla, originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, decided to become a lawyer based on her father’s advice.
“He would always tell me how well I could argue about any subject—with him!” Keyla says with a smile. “He was a Certified Public Accountant, but always wanted to be an attorney, so I think that rubbed off on me too,” she adds.
Joining the USPTO
Keyla attended both college and law school at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. After years of practicing employment law, a friend recommended she apply to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as a trademark examining attorney. As she waited to see if she was selected, the doubts and fears of imposter syndrome began to creep in.
“I am half Cuban and half Puerto Rican. Before landing my job at the USPTO, I had lived all of my life—studied, acquired degrees, married, and became a mother—in Puerto Rico. I didn’t think I had any chance of getting an interview, let alone getting hired.”
But Keyla did get an interview and was selected for the role soon after.
“When I was finally hired, I felt instant fear that I wouldn’t be able to do the job, and that somehow I was not worthy of it. But I was. And I am! It has been such a life-changing, fulfilling experience,” Keyla describes.
Keyla’s daily work consists primarily of examining applications to register trademarks and service marks. This involves reviewing the Register for potentially conflicting marks as well as researching to address any substantive issues in addition to procedural issues.
Then, there’s a lot of drafting letters (“Office Actions”) to send to the applicant. These letters explain potential issues an application might have. Keyla also may chat with an applicant by phone to provide explanations or assist them with the application process.
Co-workers that make the job worth loving
In between this important work, she connects daily with colleagues to discuss examination strategies and to get second opinions or feedback on gray areas.
“Hands down the greatest strength in my business unit are these co-workers,” says Keyla, “I love them. They make this job fun, smart, dynamic, and engaging. They are a huge part of why I love the job.”
“The diversity and quality of people I get to work with is like no other, both professionally and personally,” she continues. “They make my days brighter and engaging and I feel I am a better person because of the wonderful people I am surrounded by. They energize me and make my days more interesting and fulfilling.”
Keyla has built community at the USPTO over time. When she started working in person at the USPTO’s Alexandria headquarters in 2016, she established many new work relationships. She even mentored new trademark examining attorneys. More recently, she became a founding member of the Latinos in Trademarks (LIT) affinity group.
The recipe for career success
Keyla’s advice to others looking to be a success in their career is as inspiring as it is positive: “Give yourself the chance to fail because, more often than not, you’re capable of doing a whole lot more than you thought,” she shares.
“With every change or new role, there would be a feeling of insecurity and nervousness about whether I’d be able to do a good job. But I am thankful that I pushed past those insecurities because it opened the doors to a lot of experiences, people, and opportunities I would have missed had I not taken the chance,” says Keyla.
“Any type of field has its ups and downs, its easy parts and its difficult parts, especially when you venture into a new or relatively unknown field,” she continues, “So whenever mistakes are made, don’t let them get you too down because it’s part of the process of learning something new, and when you are excelling and doing amazing work, don’t let it go to your head because there is always something new to learn.”
Keyla’s advice certainly is in lock step with the thought process of so many creators and inventors, as well as with the culture of innovation that the USPTO fosters.
In addition to this positive growth mindset, Keyla also stresses the importance of soft skills. Particularly, she feels that time management goes a long way.
“The beauty of the USPTO is that there’s a lot of independent work and schedule flexibilities that you just don’t get at other workplaces. If you are out on leave, you are truly on leave. There’s no expectation to be ‘on call’—it’s extremely refreshing! But with that comes the responsibility of properly managing your time and keeping pace with different deadlines,” Keyla explains.
Overall, Keyla views her USPTO career as a one big life lesson: “It’s a reminder for me that I can and will do a lot of good in my life, including in my career. I hope other minorities can see me as an example of the richness and talent minorities possess and can bring to the workforce.”