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Patent Strategic Plan

April 1997


  1. Message from the Commissioner
  2. Message From the Office of the Assistant Commissioner for Patents
  3. Patent Mission
  4. Patent Business Environment
  5. The Patent Business Work Force
  6. Patent Goal One
  7. Patent Goal Two
  8. Patent Goal Three
  9. Patent Goal Four
  10. Patent Goal Five
  11. Patent's Commitment to Results

1 Message from the Commissioner

I am honored and excited to be leading the Patent and Trademark Office at a time when intellectual property protection is a critical component of our technology-based economy. The Clinton Administration recognizes that intellectual property rights — patents, trademarks, and copyrights — are a national resource and a key element of America's success in the global marketplace. If U.S. businesses are to remain competitive, the effective protection of intellectual property rights must be guaranteed throughout the world.

Because of this increased focus on a global and technology-based economy, our strategic plan describes a new vision, with many new strategies. While continuing to produce low cost, timely, and high quality patents and trademarks, we will provide leadership in intellectual property rights policy development and promote quality and customer satisfaction in everything we do.

Bruce Lehman

2 Message From the Office of the Assistant Commissioner for Patents

Our strategy is to build a framework for the 21st Century - an age of information and technology, and an economy based on intellectual resources. To build that strategy we must understand our business environment and address its challenges. We must integrate those challenges with our internal responsibility by building a philosophy to adapt and respond to the ever-changing external environment, where our goals put tangibility to the philosophy and our objectives bring a sense of reality to the goals.

I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to help lead the Patent Business into the information age.

Under the guidance of Commissioner Bruce A. Lehman, our Patent Business managers have refined our vision, mission, values and goals. Our strategy, mission and logo truly incorporate our views of customers, employees, emerging technologies and anticipated changes. And our five major goals will navigate the Patent Business into the future.

We are now in the transitional period of the reengineering effort, the ideas set forth in our concept of operations are moving towards reality. Because our external constraints and environment are ever-changing, our pace may fluctuate, but our course cannot waver.

Our work in protecting intellectual property has never been more challenging, and yet it has never been more clear that the strength of our Nation and success of our global citizens depends on our efforts. If we are going to meet our customers' expectations and face our responsibilities in the next century, we must build a dynamic organization that will enable us to achieve our expected goals. This strategic plan lays the framework and direction for us to follow, so that we all may prosper in our age of information.

Ed Kazenske, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Patents

3 Patent Mission

To Help Our Customers Get Patents

Patent Vision

To be a world-class, flexible and business-oriented organization with a dedicated, highly skilled, and empowered work force that provides customer-valued and globally respected patents and services.

Patent Values

Supporting the Patent Vision are the Values of the Patent Business: integrity, respect, trust and teamwork among our people, and commitment to leadership and excellence in the delivery of products and services to our customers.

The Patent Business Staying on the Cutting Edge

Today more than in any period in our history, intellectual property is a premier commodity, directly tied to America's economic future and to its ability to maintain economic and political leadership among the industrial nations of the world. We are the gateway through which industrial and technological advances are appraised and disseminated as patent grants to inventors.

The information contained in those grants is disclosed to technologists, scientists, inventors, and citizens worldwide. Patent laws encourage technological progress by providing incentives to inventors to disclose their technology, and to business to invest in that technology.

Reflecting upon the fast-moving environment of today, including factors such as the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, global competitiveness, the demands of the Information Age, a focus on better quality of products and services and the improvement of our employees quality of life; we have begun to implement new processes to prepare for the many challenges and the sweeping opportunities awaiting us in the 21st century.

4 Patent Business Environment

Customer Awareness

As we survey the landscape of change we must face, one feature dominates all others - customer awareness. No other single factor mandates broad revision of business practice and procedure as that required by the acknowledgment that we have customers. This realization requires a personal reassessment of job duties and responsibilities by all Patent Business members. Unable to shield the effects of individual actions behind the facade of a faceless bureaucracy, we are taking note of the impact of our determinations on the originators of and partners in our work. Every step in the patent process is being redesigned to reflect an awareness of the needs of our customers. All interactions with our customers are being viewed as opportunities to provide the highest quality patent products and services. Patent Business members demonstrate an appreciation for the marketplace impacts of our work on our customers. While this fresh perspective of customer awareness and service will not dictate acquiescence to every customer request, it will reflect world class patentability assessments and application processing. Every member of the Patent Business contributes to our customers' perceptions of competence, service and value for cost. Acknowledgment of the Patent Mission "to help our customers get patents" in our daily activities must serve as a standard for all we do.

Global Competition

As the United States strives to maintain economic leadership in the global market place, the strength of our innovation based, high technology centered economy is paramount. At the heart of the economic transformation of creativity into capital lies the protections provided by intellectual property. We recognize the increasing demand for improved patentability determinations to have international integrity. Our work products are no longer viewed only in a national perspective. Increasingly, our customers compare the products and services received here, with those provided by major foreign patent offices, most notably the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Japanese Patent Office (JPO). As we set a strategic direction, we must acknowledge the end of our monopoly in the intellectual property arena. We must be responsive to a clientele of increased sophistication and experience in dealings with other patent offices. Against a backdrop of dramatic growth in filings (approximately 191,000 applications filed in fiscal year 1996, and a projected 238,000 applications annually by the year 2000) we must continue to improve our level of service and value to our customers. Merely keeping pace with the EPO and JPO will not suffice. The Patent Business in the US PTO must set the global standard for internationally renowned patent protection.

Information Technology

For more than 200 years, the Patent Business has centered around a paper-based, labor-intensive, linear production pipeline. The paper search files have grown to more than 34 million documents. This paper file is subject to degradation and is costly to manage and maintain. Since the 1980s, we have been seeking to implement computer data and retrieval systems applicable to all aspects of our operations. Current information technology now can begin to meet our data storage and retrieval needs. We are partnering with our foreign patent office counterparts and initiating major developmental efforts to accept and process electronic application filings. Automation initiatives will play a pivotal role as we reengineer our processing systems to improve customer service, increase efficiency and modernize our business practices.

Technological Complexity

The information disseminated by patents continues to revolutionize the world. The accelerating pace of innovation is matched by an increasing technological complexity of patent disclosures. The knowledge and skills required to process patent applications will necessarily rise commensurably. Genetic sequence applications, software applications, semiconductors and automatic control systems are just a few examples of technologies experiencing rapid development. As the technological demands of patent applications continue to become more complex, all members of the Patent Business must find new ways to stay on the cutting edge.

Legislative Horizon

An important driver for change is the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, which became effective June 8, 1995. Under the provisions of GATT, the term of utility patent protection begins on the filing date of an application and ends 20 years later. Now, Patent Business internal processing, i.e. cycle time, directly impacts the term of patent protection provided to our customers. This change in patent term places increased responsibility on the Office to minimize any internal delays in the processing of applications. Legislation to transform the PTO into a Performance Based Organization (PBO) and/or a government corporation has been reintroduced in the Congress. Regardless of the outcome, to meet the needs of our customers, the Patent Business must foster a corporate perspective in all aspects of our operations.

5 The Patent Business Work Force

Patent Employees

We recognize that our people are our most valued asset. We encompass approximately 4,000 of the PTO's 5,237 employees. We are comprised of approximately 2,300 patent examiners, each having a minimum of an undergraduate degree in the fields of engineering or science. We have 500 technical support staff members and 300 managers working together with the examiners in the processing of patent applications. The rest of our staff provides the corporate and administrative support for the patent processing pipeline. In total, our organization possesses one of the most highly trained and technical work forces in government and industry.


We are committed to having a diverse work force of talented individuals where differences are valued. This means creating an inclusive organization where our employees are empowered to serve customers and achieve our goals. We have broadened our recruitment efforts to attract applicants from diverse sources so that top quality candidates can be considered for all Patent positions. We are promoting awareness about Patent employment opportunities and the importance of science and engineering at colleges and universities with high minority and female enrollments.

Professional Development

We are committed to providing career development opportunities for our employees. The competencies of our employees are focused on providing a more efficient and customer centered approach for patent application processing. We are committed to providing our employees with the guidance and training necessary to thrive in an increasingly competitive business environment. Developmental activities such as PTO University, the Patent Academy, and the Technical Support Academy will continue to provide our employees with the necessary skills to perform in this increasingly complex environment.

Labor Relations

Our Patent Business employees are represented by two labor unions: National Treasury Employees Union 243 (Technical Support Staff) and the Patent Office Professional Association (Patent Examiners). We are committed to working with our Unions, through partnership where possible, towards the achievement of our goals.

Quality of Life

To create a balance between the work lives and personal lives of our employees, we are striving to promote a culture of trust and flexibility that supports an employee friendly work place. The Family & Medical Leave Act, Leave Transfer Program, Employee Assistance Program, Transit Subsidy Program, Flex-time Program, Compressed Work Week Program, the various Compensatory Time programs, Part-Time Employment Pilot, and Health and Fitness Facility are just a few of the benefits that we offer to our employees. Additionally, the PTO is testing a work at home program in the Trademark Business, which may be considered for other parts of the Office. The PTO is also developing, in concert with our Unions, the requirements for our long-term space acquisition which may include a child care center, cafeteria, and an auditorium.

Effective communication among employees is essential for all successful businesses. In line with this, the Commissioner has instituted a new communications policy setting forth communiation standards for the entire PTO. Technological advances in communication such as electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards, PTOnet, and the Internet are being deployed throughout the Patent Business. Providing automated information access to all of our employees is a high priority. Traditional communication vehicles such as employee newsletters, The PTO Pulse, bulletins and memorandums reach all Patent Business employees.

6 Patent Goal One

Reduce PTO processing time to 12 months or less for all inventions.

We will optimize processes within our purview. Traditionally we have measured average pendency time per application which included applicants response time. We are now focusing on minimizing absolute internal cycle time for every invention.



Current Perspective

The goal of reduced cycle time is very important to our customers, particularly in view of the 20 Year Term Legislation which begins patent term upon filing of the application in the Office. Due to reduced funding levels, the Office has focused all available resources on application processing and has deferred other planned enhancements and reengineering activities. Even with all efforts focused on application processing, the inability to hire staff commensurate with an increase in application filing levels will lead to increased processing times. Because of strained resources, it becomes even more necessary to streamline processes, reduce rework, and maximize the value of information technology enhancements.

Impact of Reduced Funding On Cycle Time

Year Filings Disposals Cycle Time
1996 191,087 180,196 16.0
1997 212,000 179,400 18.1
1998 220,000 158,000 19.0
1999 229,000 149,000 20.0
2000 238,000 148,000 23.7
2001 248,000 145,000 27.6

7 Patent Goal Two

Establish fully-supported and integrated industry sectors.

Patent Business resources must be organized around the customers' needs. Industry Sectors are the platform for future efforts to streamline the patent process. Industry Sectors will utilize the clustering of groups through matrix management and pooling of resources to obtain desired objectives.



Current Perspective

The realignment of the arts and technologies to technology areas that parallel private industry remains one our highest priorities. We will complete phase I of aligning technologies into their respective Industry Sectors during fiscal year 1997. We will continue to evaluate the benefits and efficiencies of centralization versus decentralization of support services to the industry sectors.

Proposed Industry Sectors:

8 Patent Goal Three

Receive applications and publish patents electronically.

Information technology will play an ever increasing role in the processing of patent applications. Electronic tools will be developed and deployed to support all aspects of Patent Business operations.



Current Perspective

Due to current funding constraints, resources for information technology projects have been dramatically reduced. However, we recognize the critical importance of information technology to more efficient and effective processing of applications. Therefore, we are researching funding alternatives such as enterprise wide automation development and automation partnerships with private industry. PALM system migration, Internet access, and Desktop Workstation deployment will continue, while developmental work on electronic filing of applications has been delayed. We are continuing ongoing research associated with the legal requirements of electronic filing and prosecution of applications. Limited automation funding is being stretched to maximize return on investment and focus on near term benefits.

9 Patent Goal Four

Exceed our customers' quality expectations, through the competencies and empowerment of our employees

A corporate environment will be created, characterized by employee ownership and accountability for the benefit of the customer. Maximizing the talents and capabilities of our employees, we will have the competencies needed to meet customer expectations.



Current Perspective

We continue to place customer service and improving the quality of our products and services as our highest priority. Training budgets have been reduced and no hiring of examiners is planned for FY97 or FY98, requiring creative solutions for increasing customer satisfaction. Emphasis is being placed on increased information sharing, coaching and mentoring, customer partnerships and feedback and empowering employees to make changes in their work place to enhance operations.

10 Patent Goal Five

Assess fees commensurate with resource utilization and customer efficiency.

Corporate business practices will be adopted to manage Patent resources. The development of an integrated planning and budgeting system will enable the Patent Business to allocate program resources in relation to our contribution to the mission and goals of the Office. A variety of products and services will be developed, linked to customer requirements and their willingness to pay for those products and services.



Current Perspective

In times of fiscal hardship, the importance of accurately monitoring expenses and recovering costs in a consistent manner becomes increasingly critical. Since we receive no taxpayer revenue, it is essential that our fee structures are carefully aligned to cover all operational costs. To ensure this, we are participating in a corporate wide effort to develop unit cost calculations for all of our products and services. In conjunction with this activity based costing assessment, we are researching various funding options and are scrutinizing our fee structure to ensure we meet our financial and policy goals while continuing to offer our customers affordable access to the patent system.

11 Patents' Commitment to Results

We must be a dynamic, flexible, business-like organization to keep pace with innovation and our global environment. To meet that challenge, we have developed this Strategic Plan to outline a clear direction to our destination. The Patent Strategic Plan is the road map of where we want to go and how we plan to get there. The plan is adaptable to accommodate dynamic business circumstances, while still serving to direct us towards our goals.

All Patent Business employees must be committed to our Patent Mission, Vision and Values, and to the attainment of our Goals and Objectives. This Plan will focus our priorities, program activities, resource needs, and milestones that will lead us toward our Vision.

As part of our planning process, Industry Sector Business Plans will be developed to support the Patent Strategic Plan. Each year our business units will look at progress towards our Patent goals and set out operational objectives that will guide the organization towards those directions. This will provide our Patent Business employees with a focus for their efforts.

We will monitor and evaluate our progress towards the achievement of our Patent goals. Both the agency as a whole and individuals will be cognizant of their contribution toward achieving Office and Patent Business goals. As required by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the PTO will prepare an annual GPRA Performance Report that will describe our actual program performance achieved toward our stated performance goals.

Our daily operations are the cornerstone for the protection of intellectual property and a critical component of our techology-based economy. Vice President Gore stated, "To prepare America for the 21st century, we must harness the powerful forces of science and technology to benefit all Americans." The PTO holds the reigns that will harness those forces and our Patent Business Mission, Goals and Objectives described in this plan are the the means for leading us towards the opportunities and challenges that await us in the next century.