I was saddened but not surprised to read the April 15 Fed Page article “Patent office faulted on quality control.” As a former patent examiner, I know that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prizes production over quality. That was the primary reason I left my well-paying job for a less lucrative but more satisfying line of work.
While working there, I used to joke with my wife that my workplace was a perpetual crime scene: The English language was murdered there daily. To improve patent quality, the office should consider changing the qualities it looks for in recruits. As important as technical knowledge is to patent examination, more important qualifications are fluency in English, a sensitivity to linguistic nuance and the humility to approach each application with an open mind. Sadly, I found those qualities scarce during my time there.
Chris McGahey, Alexandria
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office uses a detailed checklist of recommended elements to evaluate a statistically relevant number of actions for each examiner. This quality-review function is outside the chain of command and is provided to examiners and their supervisors.
The inspector general’s report criticized managers for using mistakes as “teaching moments” in reviews that the supervisor regularly initiates instead of documenting and charging examiners for bad performance.
Of course patent quality would be improved by providing examiners with more time, more training and better tools to undertake their important tasks. With these added benefits, collaboration among managers, examiners and users is more likely to result in improvements than simply penalizing examiners for errors.
Director Michelle K. Lee, in one of her first acts, established a patent-quality czar and sought input from patent filers to determine what should be done. She is already trying to make the system better. Let’s give her the chance.
Robert Stoll, Washington
The writer was commissioner for patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from 2009 to 2011.