Patent Backlog Spurs Demand for Examiners

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Got a degree in engineering, chemistry or physics and looking for work? The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is hiring.

The patent office plans to hire 1,200 examiners for each of the next five years. The average starting salary is about $62,000, and electrical engineers and computer engineers may qualify for an $8,800 signing bonus because the PTO has a hard time recruiting in those fields.

The hiring binge is being driven by corporations around the world that pour money into research and development and seek patents in the United States to protect their intellectual property rights, said John J. Doll, the commissioner of patents.

In recent months, the PTO has been swamped with patent applications, for such things as computer software, cellphones and interactive videos, and could face a backlog of 800,000 cases before year's end, Doll said.

Like many other parts of the government, PTO is in competition with the private sector to hire college graduates and others with degrees in engineering and science. Finding workers with specialized skills is especially important for many federal agencies because projections show that 40 percent of the current federal workforce will retire by 2015.

As part of its employment package, PTO pays retention bonuses to keep electrical and computer engineers from going to the private sector. It also picks up the cost of law school courses for examiners who want to improve their credentials with a law degree. Careers as examiners can lead to salaries of about $100,000 a year.

PTO also tries to be a family-friendly employer, giving some leeway to examiners on when they start their work each day -- as long as they meet certain productivity goals, based on their experience and the difficulty of their caseload.

"You have to work hard; it's a difficult job, but if you work hard, you can do the job in 40 hours a week," Doll said.

As part of its recruitment effort, PTO is holding a job fair at its Alexandria headquarters on Friday and Saturday. Agency employees will greet potential job applicants in the Madison Building Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. More job fairs will be held later in the year.

People interested in this week's job fair are encouraged to register on the agency's Web site ( because registration guarantees an interview with a patent examiner. People who attend without registering will be offered interviews on a first-come, first-served basis.

The deadline to register for an interview is Wednesday, Doll said.

"We have an examiner sit down and explain what the job is," he said. "We don't want someone coming in without knowing what the job is -- we make sure they understand at a grass-roots level what they are going to be doing, what it takes to get hired and get promoted."

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