Lets hear from Experienced PTO Examiners: Are you willing to move?

UHaulSerious engineers and scientists don’t necessarily fit well in the policy-wonk culture of DC. Rumor has it that the whole Potomac area is a bit of a revolving door with the transient politico-intelligencia moving in-and-out as politics shift and families grow.  The USPTO is no different, and it is no secret that the agency is having trouble hiring qualified patent examiners as well as retaining those who are there and doing a great job.

One serious solution floated in the newest “Strategic Plan” calls for establishing regional offices, perhaps in Denver or Chicago, that could take some of the load.  For these regional offices to be successful, a cadre of experienced examiners would need to make the move to server as leaders in the new officers.  If you are an examiner, would you be willing to move west to the Windy City or Ski country? Comments are open.

40 thoughts on “Lets hear from Experienced PTO Examiners: Are you willing to move?

  1. I will be joing in Sep. 2008… I will vote for Raleigh,NC or Austin,TX.

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  2. I was the one to propose branch offices for P.T.O. The only one nessecery is Ft. Myers Fla. Because all major original ideas are created there.Weather and cost of living are nice to.

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  3. Excellent blog. This has been very useful in researching the topic of patents and patent laws.

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  4. Lets not get carried away with this the absolute main cause for 15% attrition every year is the insanely high production quotas which have not been changed since the 1970’s and which management refuses to address. 70% of all those leaving the office cite the unreasonably high prduction quota as a reason, or the reason, for leaving the office. Unless something is done about the production quota and the very high attrition that it causes, attrition will remain the same and the backlog will continue to rise. Regional offices will only cause the attrition rate to remain the same except that it will be 15% across the country as opposed to 15% in the DC area.

    Large attrition = Large backlog + Low Quality!

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  5. Not sure why anyone would want to move to either Denver or Chicago. Denver is not a good place where you can make contacts for future employment. I assume the PTO is attempting to stop people from leaving the agency by “locking” them into snow covered wastelands. Most employers like local candidates. Then they’ll complain they can’t get qualified applicants and hire teams of h1bs.

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  6. The concern about quality of examination from potential different offices cannot be given substantial weight without giving a clear definition of “quality”. It has been brought up consistently on this site and other forums that the “quality” of examination differs not only between TC to TC, or art unit to art unit, but from examiner to examiner! If we want to make “quality” a factor in this decision, then we would have to address it first in respect to the current office in Alexandria. In my opinion, “quality” is a red herring and the PTO should concentrate on the issue of whether they can really hire the best people to come to DC.
    Do a survey on this popular site that is frequented not only by patent attorneys/agents, but also examiners! Do an independent study! Do something to make the right decision!

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  7. I absolutley would be be willing to move. In fact, I am seriously considering coming back to the PTO to take advantage of their present hotelling program. Several Examiners I used to work with are on this program, and one of them telecommutes from Seattle. To meet the 1 hour per biweek requirement she takes a redeye into dc on a friday in the middle of every month, works that friday and the following monday and then flies back out to Seattle. If she can do it from Seattle, I can do it from Maine, which is where most of my family lives. The way I see it everybody wins. the PTO gets me, a Patent professional with over 5 years experience, to come back and examine, and I get to live where I want and get 4 weeks vacation and 11 paid holidays per year. Funny thing is, at the rates southwest offers to BWI, I can fly in and out once a month and my commuting costs per month will be the same as they are currently.

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  8. One thing that could help the USPTO hire and retain people is to offer student loan repayment incentives. This is becoming more important as more college grads are taking on more debt….

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  9. As another midwesterner with experience in both Denver and Chicago, I would highly recommend both of those cities. Both would be desirable to a number of examiners and both would serve the customers well. On balance I’d have to give the edge to Denver on cost of living, quality of life, better weather and easier access for West Coast inventors and companies.

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  10. One more option will be to just use some approach like link to wikipatents.com
    and get most of the patent reviews done free by volunteers. Thus reducing the examiners needed and the associated costs.

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  11. There are many questions that need to be addressed. (1) Would remote examination provide the same, or better, quality of examination. (2) Do examiners need to remain grouped to promote training and uniformity? (3) Will assignments and coordination come through a centralized office for uniformity? (4) What criteria should be used to select remote sites? (3a) Cost of living? (3b) Large metropolitan area? (3c) Reasonable cost of transportation for interviews?

    Why can’t a hybrid system be developed that uses all the best-practices available in business. We could implement satellite offices as well as have at-home examiners. The last would be great for highly experienced part-timers, or retirees. I could see examining in my golden years — from a western time zone. I’d want to be at Luby’s by 3 pm for dinner. (Of course, out-sourcing to India needs to stay unmentioned.)

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  12. As a midwesterner with experience in both Denver and Chicago, I would highly recommend looking at smaller midwestern cities to place the USPTO office. Denver and Chicago still have very expensive housing and high taxes, where as St. Louis, Nashville (where Nissan just mover their US headquarters), Memphis (home to FedEx), and many other locations provide a much better cost of living where a Examiner’s salary can not just buy an average house, but an above average house with money left over. These cioties have symphonies (st. Louis had one of the best in the U.S.) and pro sports, etc. Chicago and Denver, in the end, will still leave the office in much the same trafiic heel and salary problem it currently has, whereas expanding the search a bit night be the best for all involved.

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  13. I agree that, in principle, this aspect of the Strategic Plan has a lot of potential. But I think the PTO will have to be very careful about examiner training and communication among the examiners within their AUs to make it work. The last thing we need is even more variation in examining quality among disparate offices. Even worse would be the evolution of “forum shopping” by applicants if they sense trends in examining behavior among the different satellite offices!

    But I think those problems can be avoided with some foresight. One possible approach might be to require all examiners to spend at least one or two years in D.C. to be sure they learn the ropes and develop strong relationships with senior PTO management before leaving for the satellite offices. Examiners could also be required to return to the mother ship periodically for refreshers and face time with the other members of their AUs and Groups.

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  14. The PTO needs to have regional offices to cater to the different technological sectors. It is silly to have attorneys and their clients travel to DC just to get to see the Examiner to resolve the issues. Statistical analysis could be used to determine where the best places would be for the vast customers service by the PTO. For instance, somewhere near the west coast for computer tech area; somewhere midwest for the mechanical area, and somewhere in the northeast US for the chemical and biotech area. Really the only part of the PTO that needs to be in DC is the higher level management (above TC director level) for examination; management, CIO and human resources and patent policy areas. Other federal agencies have regional offices. With the amount of data the PTO gathers on patents granted, e.g. see the OG notices, it would be easy to figure where would be the best locations for PTO regional offices. The issue is not the cost of living. The issue is how the PTO can best serve the users of the Patent and Trademark system.

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  15. This idea is way too logical to ever be implemented properly by a government agency.

    It makes perfect sense to move the examiners out of the DC area and closer to our nation’s various technology hubs.

    It makes so much sense that it will never happen.

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  16. Heck, if there was an office in Texas I’d apply to work at the PTO in a heartbeat. I wanted to work for the PTO when I was in D.C. for a year, but there was no way it could have worked. Someone on the PTO’s salary could have a very nice home and good QoL if the office was in any of the Dallas/Houston/Austin metro area.

    Plus, Tex-Mex and BBQ? No contest.

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  17. I’m also a 3L with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. I would love to work at an office in Austin, TX immediately upon graduation. As was stated before, that area is certainly amenable to raising a family, good quality of life, and proximity to the research culture of Austin, the industry of Houston, and the business hub of Dallas. (not to mention my alma mater of Texas A&M in College Station). For us snow-haters, Austin would be fantastic.

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  18. Being a resident of Denver and finding it difficult to get a job a s a patent agent without 2 years experience is difficult. There’s lots of land out here especially at the old Army bases to build a new headquarters or potentially closer to Boulder and put the location at the Denver Federal center

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  19. Perhaps Denver and Chicago are being considered because they are major hubs for airline travel–and thus more convenient and less expensive for management types to travel to.

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  20. Think Indianapolis. None of the commuting and COLA hassles of Chicago, and much closer to the rest of the country than Denver. Think small town feel with big city advantages. Very affordable housing. Close to major centers for pharmaceuticals, bioengineering, nanotechnology.

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  21. I’m an examiner, originally from the NY area, where I still have friends and family. I’d be willing to consider places on the East Coast, like Charlotte, Miami, maybe Atlanta. Denver and Chicago are too far west for me.

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  22. For example, India has four offices located in four corners of the country:
    link to patentoffice.nic.in

    An Indian resident can file an application for patent at the appropriate Patent Office depending on his/her residence or the principal place of business. For non residents, the address for service in India or principal place of business of his agent determines the appropriate patent office where applications for patent can be filed.
    link to patentoffice.nic.in

    It works for them!

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  23. Two other great places for a satellite office: Austin and Charlotte.

    Austin would be fitting b/c of the vast industry in that area.

    Charlotte is a good idea because of its proximity to the research triangle. Also, I just think it would be a good idea to have a satellite office in the south, and I would choose charlotte over atlanta just because i think atlanta sucks.

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  24. Denver I would consider (I might even jump at the chance). I’m a skier/snowboarder, though, so colorado has always interested me.

    Chicago isn’t for me, though. Why go someplace where the cost of living is just as high?

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  25. As a patent examiner with four years of D.C. experience, my requirements for relocating to a new area would be:
    1) Less than a 2 hour commute to and another 2 hour commute to work from home
    2) Three bedroom houses priced under $450,000
    3) Community where everyone is not an egomaniacal narcissist.
    Looks like ANYWHERE else would qualify…except L.A.

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  26. I think Denver would be far better than other heartland locations. Having grown-up on the west coast, most folks out there wouldn’t consider travelling any farther east than Colorado. The winters in Chicago and Detroit are severe compared to Denver and the summer in Atlanta is sweltering (but, not as bad as DC).

    I bet the concept for remote offices would be to move particular art groups to particular locations. For Denver, I would guess that telecom or cable TV would be good candidates, Detroit for autos, and Chicago for chemical. Lots of local customers there and lots of engineers to recruit.

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  27. Back in the days when I was an examiner, the only way to search the prior art was by going to the search room and flipping through paper patents. With the maturation of broadband internet and secure networks, there is no longer any reason that the PTO cannot transform into a “virtual” agency.

    Its an excellent idea, and if this will enable the Office to retain experienced and good examiners I am 100% in favor of it.

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  28. I disagree in part with assertion that examination is ideal for telework. For a primary examiner merely examining, it is wonderful. For junior examiners, it “probably” is not. How many jobs have 3-5 year learning curve? Not many that I can think of. Primary examiners can be a great resource for juniors to bounce ideas off of. BS sessions and water-cooler talk are non-existent in the telework world. It takes a village!!!

    Not that I think brakes should be applied to the hotelling program, rather I’m just pointing out it is not the perfect match that others suggest it to be.
    I’d give it a grade of a B-minus

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  29. Hi, I will be moving to Alexandria, VA as a patent examiner next month, any advice for novices like me? Thanks!

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  30. Not sure what the value of a regional office is exactly. As others have said, examination is ideal for Telework. Fully 100% of the work examiners do could be from home or personal offices. In this regard, the office might be better off just removing the locality requirement. Examiners are free to live anywhere in the nation that has high speed internet access. No forum shopping and worries about confusion with inventors. The whole act would be entirely without change to outside players.

    The office has already started the first such assignment. One employee is currently living and working in Hawaii on a 100% Telework.

    I would think the idea of reginal offices came about before IFW and Telework. At this point, it would be hard for me to think that it will get support from the top. Distributive teleworkers would be cheaper.

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  31. Atlanta is beckoning you, Examiners! :) Lower cost of living, minimal housing bubble, mild winters. C’mon, you know you wanna!

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  32. I’ve been at the PTO for 16 years, and was lucky enough to buy my home before the last wild surge in the DC area real estate market. I now live less than 3 miles from the PTO, so the notorious DC traffic doesn’t impact me either. So my decision would be more about family proximity more than anything else. My wife is a local and my family is mostly east coast, so I would be unlikely to relocate.

    Having said that, I don’t think the office would have much difficulty finding experienced examiners to move to new regional offices. Many of my fellow primary examiners have expressed an interest in moving to such a facility. I think the bigger challenge might be in keeping sufficient numbers here in DC to keep this office functional.

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  33. I have been an examiner for 16 years.
    Willing to relocate? Yes. Desiring to relocate? No. If there was a good incentive package: yes.

    I my guess is that someone just has a theory that regional offices would make things better. Does IBM, HP, Morgan Stanley, Wal-mart, etc. have regional offices just to hire great employees? Yes, they have regional offices – but for other reasons. I’d think it would be a common business model – if it were effective.

    To put it another way: If it is known that the PTO can improve its work force/product by having regional offices, then one would expect that other companies/agencies could also improve their organizations by using regional offices.

    We should try to learn first from others mistakes/sucesses before we attempt our own experiment. Of course, if no one has tried it before……

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  34. I am a former Examiner who would have loved to stay, but could not hack the cost of living after my family started growing. I recently moved west and I’m very glad to see the PTO is considering this option. I loved examining and would love to go back if they opened a regional office near me.

    Not only would this option save PTO real esate costs and widen the pool of job applicants, it would improve their PR by bringing examiners physically closer to applicants. Many examiners mourned the loss of the PTO’s shoes (paper patents), but now that the PTO is virtually paperless, cost-saving benefits such as this can and should be reaped.

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  35. I like all the different regions of people we have here at the PTO — makes it even more fun during Final Four. But most new grads I know want to get out of the DC area eventually. All the old timers who had brought houses before the insane market the last few years probably have no incentive to move.

    All the Big 10ers [maybe except PSU] or midwesties would love to go to Chicago. I don’t know how the PTO came up with Denver, but most pac-coasters would still pick it over DC and its ridiculous humidity and living cost. Count me in with the pacs.

    I know with almost certainty that if PTO had an office in the silicon valley area, they would have no problems with getting enough examiners for the hitech arts. There are many smart Stanfs and Berks still underemployed after the dot bomb.

    Hoteling is currently not an option to get out of the DC area because it still requires people to show up at the office once a week.

    Regarding the forum shopping comment, I think it depends on the management structure. Courts are headed by judges who really don’t have to answer to anyone. Hence, different systems would develop. If the QAS are still kept as one central unit, different systems should not develop.

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  36. I’m a 3L, and would seriously consider examining if there was an office in either Chicago OR Denver. DC is just not gonna happen, between my family and not wanting to be on the east coast. Having lived in Fort Collins, CO (1hr north of Denver), I believe it’s very amenable to allow for all types of people to be more interested in examining….

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  37. Examination does not require a close office environment, and is amenable to telecommuting. The Office has recently started what they call “hoteling”, whereby you work at home and come in for an hour once a week. From everything we’ve heard the program is going quite well. It benefits those with long commutes or who don’t want to come in every day, and benefits the Office because we are already running out of space in Alexandria (isn’t that why we moved down here from Crystal City?).

    Having said that, I think there might be reluctance on the part of attorneys and applicants to have different offices, as each may diverge/evolve and have its own policies and examination styles. This could result in forum-shopping (i.e. submit your electrical cases in Denver because the examiners there are less picky about 112 issues and your biotech cases in Chicago for some other reason). Given that the CAFC was created in part to prevent forum shopping for patent cases and to bring more uniformity, having remote offices might not be the best thing.

    Also, examination is very training-intensive. Even entering with a PhD *everything* must be reviewed by a primary for at least 2 years. As it stands now, only primary examiners are permitted to participate in the hoteling program. I’m not sure what the plans are for training in remote offices. Would primaries be required to move there to help train junior examiners? Would the remote offices only be open to more senior (primary or partial-signatory-authority) examiners? These are some really important nuts-and-bolts issues that would need to be worked out.

    Nonetheless, I think that in general the idea of remote offices is quite appealing. I wouldn’t personally move to a different place solely for cost-of-living reasons but I realize that is a concern. Note that Chicago ain’t exactly cheap. Furthermore, while I personally have no plans to move right now it would be a nice potential flexibility should one’s family situation change, for example. Furthermore opening remote offices canonly increase the pool of potential employees, as some people just may not be willing to move to the DC area full time, for personal reasons (i.e. family in California).

    On the cost-of-living front, the Office may adjust salaries downwards in the lower-cost areas. Federal salaries are subject to locality adjustments. These are generally additions on top of the base pay, and the more expensive regions have the larger increases. I don’t know off-hand what the adjustments are for Denver, Chicago, or Detroit, but I wouldn’t count on having the exact same pay as here in DC.

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  38. Perhaps I’m ignorant of the subtleties of patent examination (never been an examiner), but it seems to me that patent examination is a perfect candidate for telecommuting. Either way, I’d consider examining at the regional office in Hawaii.

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  39. I also would move to Denver as would many examiners at the PTO. The cost of living is too high in DC. I know Detroit has been thrown around as another area to have a remote office.

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  40. I would move to somewhere like Denver in an instant. The cost of living is just too high in DC, and the commuting is terrible. I think a whole attitude change would be possible if we could get a corp of fellow examiners out in “ski country” as you say. I think a lot of young people come in as examiners to DC because there’s work, but within 4-5 years grow tired of this transitional area and look towards someplace else to raise a family where its cheaper to live….remote offices would provide a great solution IMHO

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