Margaret Focarino Commissioner for patents, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

Best known for: In 2009, the USPTO was in crisis. The backlog of pending patent applications was enormous and growing. The process for reviewing patents was out-of-date. Employee job satisfaction was low, and the long-standing distrust between management and the patent examiners union was ever present.

In recent years, Focarino helped change all that with a series of overhauls and new business practices that her team implemented. 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, the USPTO lowered the backlog of unexamined patent applications even as submissions increased, shortened the time for processing applications, improved the quality of the examinations, reduced employee attrition and raised the level of job satisfaction.

Colleagues said Focarino helped institute a renaissance at the agency that has been beneficial for staff, innovators and the economy. They said she knew how to engineer huge change, get people to enthusiastically follow and make the changes stick. As intellectual property, patents help support 40 million jobs and contribute $5 trillion to the gross national product.

Government work: Focarino started her USPTO career as a junior patent examiner 37 years ago after graduating from college. She became a supervisory patent examiner in 1989 and a member of the Senior Executive Service in 1997. In 2005, she was promoted to deputy commissioner for patent operations, became deputy commissioner for patents in 2009 and was appointed commissioner in January 2011.

Motivation for service: Focarino feels excited coming to work every day knowing that the changes she instituted have improved the patent review process so that quality innovations can get to the marketplace faster, helping to create jobs and ensure the country’s position as a global innovation leader.

Biggest challenge: The federal budget process and the current financial challenges make it difficult to plan and operate in both the short and long term.

Quote: “The changes that I helped implement have increased the ability of our patent examiners to do a high-quality job while improving their morale, workplace engagement and trust in this organization.”

— From the Partnership

for Public Service

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