“Working for the USPTO has allowed me to be present for my family in ways that would have been unimaginable otherwise.”
Norca holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and an M.S. in Environmental Chemistry from the University of Maryland. After working as a contractor in laboratory management at the former Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for two years, she sought a career that could provide both stability and growth. Although she didn’t know much about the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the agency’s innovative mission intrigued her.
“The USPTO’s special salary rate and non-competitive career ladder were also attractive incentives within the federal government,” she explains.
Norca then began working at the USPTO in 1999 as a patent examiner in TC 1700, where she worked with semiconductors and synthetic textiles. After over a decade of service, in 2012 she joined the Chemical Group at the Central Reexamination Unit, where she completed a detail. Being part of the CRU team is a major accomplishment, as it is a close-knit community of examiners with high work ethics that provide high-quality actions. There, she works with reexamination proceedings, supplemental examination requests, and reissue applications.
Outside of work, Norca cherishes time with her family. She also gardens, utilizing what she harvests in her delicious cooking. Working at the USPTO is a huge help in preserving that family and free time.
“I love that I can work very independently with a very flexible schedule,” she says. “When I had my first child, I was able to work part-time for her first year. When my oldest daughter started grade school, telework allowed me to be home before and after school for her and eventually for my youngest daughter. The fact that we can have a secondary remote location is an additional blessing since I have aging parents. These programs have been the main reasons that have kept me at the USPTO.”
“Now, I can proudly say that I have been working at the USPTO for 24 years,” shares Norca. She describes that this career path of over two decades evolved in a “very organic manner.”
Whatever role she’s working, Norca consistently gives it her all. In fact, one of Norca’s most treasured career highlights was being a recipient of the 2022 Outstanding Employee of the USPTO award by the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA).
Detailing with the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office
Norca's USPTO career is still growing. She is currently on detail as an Assistant Outreach Coordinator for the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office (MWRO) in Detroit, Michigan, which she applied to in order to challenge herself to go beyond her comfort zone, learn new things, and use different skill sets at work.
A typical outreach detailee workday for Norca is all about flexibility. “The work is very diverse and the focus depends on the priorities of the team. I have learned to be flexible and to pivot. One day could involve reaching out to stakeholders, attending meetings with the team, planning or coordinating programs, preparing presentations or presenting programming. It is always very varied. Always exciting!” she describes.
As a detailee, she most enjoys interacting with stakeholders, sharing the USPTO’s free intellectual property (IP) tools with underrepresented communities, and contributing novel ideas during outreach meetings.
“I leverage and further develop the oral communication skills I use in my regular examiner interviews with applicants and attorneys. In order to communicate effectively, you must listen to understand the other person’s point of view, then convey your interpretations back to them effectively. It’s never about being right or wrong, but always about understanding facts and providing guidance based on established norms,” Norca wisely explains.
She also has enjoyed opportunities to share her ideas and interact with upper management. And she’s gained project management skills too. For example, she recently designed, planned, and coordinated awards for the 2023 National Patent Application Drafting Competition (NPADC), a signature event at the MWRO that impacts IP law students nationwide.
Her involvement on the 2023 NPADC Organizing Committee also afforded her the opportunity to brief Commissioner Udupa to help her prepare to serve as a judge of the final competition held at USPTO Headquarters, along with Regional Director Damian Porcari.
As Norca’s career continues, she sees herself exploring more opportunities now that her children are older, while still keeping it all in balance.
“Work-life balance has been of great importance to me in my career. I am very fortunate to have made my professional career here at the USPTO. Working for the USPTO has allowed me to be present for my family in ways that would have been unimaginable otherwise,” Norca says.