The USPTO has decided that it needs to tighten rules and supervision of patent examiners who work from home. Earlier this year, the news that US patent officers who worked from home were involved in fraudulent behavior garnered much criticism. Congress is still questioning if the move to tighten regulations is enough to curb abuse in the inner reaches of the patent office, but it does seem like for now this is the only action that the USPTO is ready to take.
There are an estimated 5,000 patent examiners on the USPTO’s roll. These work full time from their home and as the new rule book says they need to be available electronically during the hours of duty. This new requirement has been put in to ensure that work hours are not wrongly calculated, say patient attorneys. Margaret Focarino, the commissioner for the USPTO, said that the rule was among the many changes that the agency is trying to implement to make the process of patent review more transparent and better.
Work from home examiners not efficient enough
The USPTO’s work from home examiners have been accused of ‘end-loading’ which means that they turn in most of their work before the end of a quarter to ensure that they meet the minimum end requirements and their work quota is full. These examiners are also accused of indulging in a practice called ‘mortgaging’ which means that they would often turn in unfinished work just to earn more credits for the quarter.
Long wait times and backlogs at the USPTO
The USPTO has come under scrutiny for the long time it takes to approve patents. The agency can take anywhere up to two years to approve a single patent application. And when it comes to software and IT, the USPTO has been accused of going soft and granting even weak patents.
As a result, patent holders often challenge technology companies for the patents they have been granted and this causes several litigations in courts. Patent lawyers say that such excess litigations can be avoided if the examiners were a tad more careful about granting technology patents and looking for valid existing ones which could cause infringement issues.
In light of all the accusations and the huge demand for top notch and highly professional work from the USPTO, many have publicly claimed that it is time for Congress to look into the matter and form policies that can prevent abuse and fraud. On top of this, they can also continue trying to find out the truth in regards to Benghazi and the IRS abuse.
Without a director, the USPTO is rudderless
The patent office has been functioning with inexperienced staff and without a permanent director since February 2013. Patent attorneys also allege that there are many examiners who are not trained enough who regularly handle important patent applications. These examiners were hired when the agency was suffering a huge backlog sometime back, but they have stayed on even after.
Also, there needs to be a change in the current metrics-based approach to work that is used to merit the examiners. Given the current allegations, there may be a better way to gauge examiners on the efficiency of their work.