Working with labor and the backing of agency leadership, Focarino negotiated and implemented the first significant changes to the patent examiner work processes in 30 years, which included giving examiners more time and flexibility to handle cases. She created new incentives for examiners to reach their goals; developed new performance requirements for examiners and managers; increased employee training and leadership development opportunities; oversaw a major hiring initiative; and developed a comprehensive set of metrics to monitor patent quality.
As a result of these and other steps, the USPTO lowered the backlog of unexamined patent applications even as submissions increased; shortened the amount of time it takes to process applications; improved the quality of the examinations; reduced employee attrition; and raised the level of employee job satisfaction.
“The agency is doing higher-quality work and more work per person than ever before, and that can be attributed to Peggy Focarino’s leadership,” said Dave Kappos, who served as undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO from 2009 to early 2013.
“She knew how to engineer huge change, get people to enthusiastically follow and make the changes stick,” said Kappos. “She has a deep understanding of the issues, knows how to motivate people, listen to their concerns, respond to various constituencies and handle ‘the little politics.’”
Patents are important tools for many businesses, providing innovators powerful incentives to develop new technologies that improve the quality of life and advance human knowledge. As intellectual property, patents help support 40 million jobs and contribute $5 trillion to the gross national product. Both the speed and quality of patents issued is essential to maintaining this integral part of the national economy.
Teresa Stanek Rea, the acting undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and acting director of the USPTO, said an intellectual property and technology boom has been taking place, but the USPTO was not able to handle it.
“The changes implemented by Peggy Focarino have generated an internal renaissance at the USPTO, translating into enhanced stewardship of the intellectual property system,” said Rea.
Since the start of the reforms, the backlog of unexamined applications, which was more than 750,000 in 2009, dropped to less than 590,000 by August 2013—a 21 percent reduction despite a 5 percent average increase in filings per year.