"At the USPTO, there is an abundance of opportunity to pursue your goals."
Imagine for a moment the kind of career that someone who attended DC’s School Without Walls; performed with the National Symphony at The Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap; was a concert master at the DC Youth Orchestra who traveled to Puerto Rico and South Korea; and earned an internship in a molecular biology lab at the National Institutes of Health – all during her high school years—can have. Sky’s the limit, right?
There have been no borders for Shanon’s imagination, talent or career at the USPTO whose intellectual curiosity has always been equally expansive.
While working full-time at NIH and pursuing a bachelor’s in biology part-time before her days at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), her favorite questions were ‘what is that?’ and ‘how does that work?’. “I have always been motivated by the pursuit of knowledge,” she says.
Ever the investigator uncovering a system, an organism or an invention’s inner workings, Shanon’s current role as a Primary Examiner in Viral Immunology at the USPTO is more like that of a detective.
“It’s a challenge to find and determine what is new and compare the invention with what is already known,” she says. “If a reference has been written on this planet in any language, I will find it to support or deny patentability.”
For Shanon, the more unexpected, adventurous and unique an experience at work, the better. Five years after arriving at the USPTO in 2000 as a patent examiner in Virology, she became one of the first trainers for the inaugural class of the Patent Training Academy. She went on to become a Supervisory Patent Examiner, where in addition to leading art units in cancer and bacteriology, she had an opportunity to train biotechnology patent examiners from six different countries for eight months during a Foreign Examiner’s in Residence Program, detailing the intricacies of U.S. intellectual property practice and procedure.
At the USPTO, she says, she’s had “an abundance of opportunity” to pursue her goals and states that the amount of training and support that employees get to help them achieve promotions is unmatched.
So when the opportunity arose for Shanon, a full-time telework employee based in the DC area, to pursue a new career adventure in one of the USPTO’s regional offices in a completely different city, she once again pursued without hesitation.
For five months last fall, Shanon took on a remote detail assignment as a Regional Outreach Advisor to the USPTO’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office. As an ecosystem of regional offices was established across the country in response to the America’s Invents Act of 2011, outreach teams were developed to uphold the USPTO’s mission through the local provision of education programs about intellectual property (IP), customized services and partnership activities with stakeholders within regional IP communities. Outreach is a critical component of mission enablement and Shanon was excited to pitch in.
Initially, she thought the distance between her and the on-the-ground outreach team might be problematic, but quite the contrary.
“I anticipated a major impact on my usual schedule. However, the time difference turned out not to be an issue,” says Shanon. “In the mornings, while people in Mountain Time were still asleep, I researched possible contacts in the states, such as technology transfer offices at universities and colleges, Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRC), business development centers, science museums, and business accelerators and incubators.”
With Shanon’s remote arrangement, all of her outreach support to the Denver office was conducted by phone and email. Hosting meetings with major stakeholders within the region became one of her favorite parts of the job.
“All of the folks I spoke with had a great interest and enthusiasm in working with us to facilitate information to their communities about what intellectual property is and why it is so important”, says Shanon. Through her outreach coordination efforts, long-term contacts were established throughout Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. “Regardless of the state or region, every stakeholder that I spoke with would jump at the chance to tell me just how vital intellectual property is to their regional economies.”
Through the USPTO’s Career Detail program, patent examiners can apply for either an on-site or a remote assignment as a Regional Outreach Advisor to cultivate new skills and use them to ascend the career ladder. According to her, the USPTO is the perfect place to achieve a well-rounded job experience.
“There are so many opportunities to expand your career at the USPTO through details like the one I just completed, as well as opportunities to help other employees through programs like the Enterprise-Wide Mentoring Program,” Shanon states.
What really stood out for Shanon with this short-term detail was the feeling of “connectedness” despite being on a co-located team.
“Although full-time telework is a great work/life balance benefit, I do miss the collegial atmosphere of the office at times,” she said. “The detail allowed me to connect with the Denver outreach team everyday while reaching out to people involved in all aspects of intellectual property that I wouldn't otherwise engage as a Primary Examiner.”
For those interested in pursuing this challenge, Shanon’s advice is simple: don’t hesitate to initiate contact with small business administration officials, technology transfer directors at various universities, PTRC librarians, and Smithsonian-affiliated science center directors. The rewards are great for taking the time to forge new, long-term partnerships within the region.
Shanon’s remote detail allowed her to gain new experiences and insights at work while meeting the day-to-day challenges that come with establishing new strategic partnerships for the agency…all while being a busy mom to two young boys.
“I am always able to wish them a good day as they head out and I’m there when they get home from school to find out how their day went, help with homework and then spend time with them afterwards.”
For Shanon, that’s the true measure of happiness which, indeed, has no borders.