Strategic Plan > Index to Action Papers > Expand Reviews of Primary Examiner Work

Expand Reviews of Primary Examiner Work


Primary examiners must maintain the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) in current patent law, practice, and procedure.  Regular training, similar to continued legal education (CLE) requirements, will be provided to maintain KSAs of primary examiners and they should pass tests to prove that they understand the content of the training.  An expanded review of current work product will show evidence of the application of KSAs necessary to maintain full signatory authority.


Primary examiners are certified as full signatory examiners, only once, as they pass the full signatory review program.  However, due to changes in patent law, policy and practice, there would be a benefit for formal confirmation that primary examiners have maintained the KSAs necessary to enhance the quality of current decisions they make as full signatory examiners.  Training programs are in place to bring to the attention of the primary examiners any changes in patent law, practices, and procedures.  Training is also provided in the automated tools that help the examiners convey their decisions on the record.  Actions in some patent applications assigned to a primary examiner in a given fiscal year are reviewed by a Supervisory Patent Examiner (SPE).  Sometimes, this results in a thorough SPE review of only four allowances per fiscal year for a primary examiner.  However, this scale of review may not provide evidence that the primary examiner has maintained all necessary current KSAs for full signatory authority, such as by incorporating knowledge from recent training into the current work product.  

Options Considered:

·       Continue to train all primary examiners on the current state of the patent law, practice and procedure as well as automation tools to maintain necessary KSAs for full signatory authority.

·       Review an expanded sample of work product signed by primary examiners to ascertain whether current patent law, practice, and procedure (necessary KSAs) are being applied in current official actions taken by primary examiners.

USPTO Recommended Course of Action:

A determination of the current, necessary KSAs required for the position of primary examiner have been derived from existing performance standards, positions descriptions, performance appraisal plans and other guideline documents.  These documented KSAs will be reviewed on a regular basis at several levels within the USPTO, both inside and outside of the Technology Centers (TCs).  This determination could be validated by cooperation with the patent practitioners and those organizations representing our customers.  Necessary training needs are being identified to build or reinforce necessary KSAs and tests are being developed to ensure that the primary examiners taking the training understand its content.  Identification of instruments necessary to evaluate the necessary KSAs for primary examiners has begun.  Such instruments include an expanded review of work product, such as an In-Process Review (IPR) of actions at all stages of prosecution and "second pair of eyes" review of allowances to evaluate KSAs of each primary examiner.  This effort involving the evaluation of an expanded number of actions per year for each primary examiner is being implemented in the TCs.  Employees in the non-bargaining unit GS-15 examiner/trainer positions will also take part in a certification program as part of the appointment process and would be subjected to re-certification with opportunity for future quality awards.

Regular, continued training events for primary patent examiners in patent law, practice, and procedure as well as automation tools necessary for action-taking on the record and continuous quality initiatives in the TCs are being established.  Training similar to CLE programs with the expectancy that a certain number of hours of required training are taken every year is being implemented.  Tests are being developed to ensure that primary examiners who take the training prove that they understand the content of the training. 

In addition to the training requirements above, an expanded review of the work product of each primary examiner on a yearly basis to ascertain whether the necessary KSAs, such as that reinforced by recent training, is applied in the examination of the work product.  Review teams of Quality Assurance Specialists (QASs), or SPEs will review actions at all stages of prosecution.  Additionally, all TCs are implementing "second pair of eyes" reviews of allowances as needed.  (See Quality 1 (P-17)).  First office actions, finals, allowances, appeals, and abandonments could be used to evaluate KSAs of each primary examiner.  Results of these reviews showing either unsatisfactory work or work well done, will be reported to the SPE, the Group Director and the involved examiner.  If unsatisfactory work is found to be at an unacceptable percentage, the examiner will be afforded conventional improvement period(s). 

Proof of Concept

Current USPTO quality reviews generate organizational measures, but do not provide measures that can be used to identify the quality needs of an individual examiner.  The major goal of the expansion of IPRs is to identify quality trends and individual primary examiners with significant quality concerns and to provide sufficient help to address those concerns.  This concept of quality improvement will be tested in all TCs with an enhanced number of reviews.  The TC with the greatest quality concerns based on the current USPTO quality reviews will be provided sufficient resources to independently review an enhanced number of applications for every primary examiner in the TC.  The key measurement for this project will be the level of improvement during subsequent IPRs for examiners where significant quality concerns were identified and help was provided to address those concerns.  The milestones for the first year will be the performance of the IPRs, the identification of quality concerns, and the addressing of those concerns.

In addition to the project to independently review actions in an expanded number of applications for every primary examiner, the SPEs of each work group will implement a project to review allowances of primary examiners.  The major goal, key measurement, and milestones of this work group review program are the same as for the independent review program with the additional goal of keeping the SPEs highly involved in the quality improvement process.


§       Determination of KSAs necessary for primary examiners is in the final stages.

§       Development of tests for training courses is being implemented.

§       Increased review of work product of primary examiners has begun.


Increased respect and recognition for those primary examiners retaining full signatory authority as well as respect and recognition for the quality of their work product.
Implementation Schedule
Work Breakdown StructureTask NameStartFinishProject Lead
10Transformation 9/Quality 2: P-20 - Recertification of KSA of Primary Examiners06/03/0210/31/03J. Chambers, A. MacDonald
10.1Identify key steps in recertification program (P-20)06/03/0207/01/02 
10.2Identify and address labor relations issues and timeline: (P-20)07/10/0212/24/02 
10.2.1Notice to POPA of intended changes (P-20)07/10/0207/10/02 
10.2.2POPA requested meeting for clarification of changes (P-20)07/17/0207/17/02 
10.2.3Clarification meeting held to discuss proposed changes (P-20)08/13/0208/13/02 
10.2.4POPA requests to bargain and submits counters to our change (P-20)08/27/0208/27/02 
10.2.5PTO requests explanation of POPA's counters (P-20)09/03/0209/03/02 
10.2.6Clarification meeting held to discuss POPA's counters (P-20)09/10/0209/10/02 
10.2.7Management counter proposals submitted (P-20)09/11/0209/11/02 
10.2.8Begin bargaining (P-20)09/11/0209/11/02 
10.2.9End bargaining, impasse declared by either party (P-20)10/29/0210/29/02 
10.2.10POPA to request FMCS assistance or PTO can implement without further bargaining (P-20)11/05/0211/05/02 
10.2.11Begin mediations (P-20)12/03/0212/03/02 
10.2.12End mediations (P-20)12/17/0212/17/02 
10.2.13POPA must request assistance from FSIP or PTO can implement last offer (P-20)12/24/0212/24/02 
10.3Continuing Education (CE) of primary examiners (P-20)11/01/0206/30/03 
10.3.1Provide new 102(e) training without testing (P-20)11/01/0212/31/02 
10.3.2Provide case law update (P-20)03/03/0304/30/03 
10.3.3Provide claim analysis (w/testing) (P-20)02/03/0306/30/03 
10.3.4Identify 4th CE topic (w/testing) (P-20)02/03/0305/01/03 
10.4Design expanded work sample program (P-20)07/22/0209/30/02 
10.4.1Develop expanded review process (P-20)07/22/0209/30/02 
10.5Implement expanded work review program (P-20)10/01/0210/31/03 
10.5.1Evaluate program and determine if changes need to be applied (P-20)10/01/0210/31/03 
10.6Establish means for recognizing and rewarding those who pass recertification (P-20)01/30/0309/30/03 
KEY: e Biz=online business system fees=fees forms=formshelp=help laws and regs=laws/regulations definition=definition (glossary)

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