At POPA’s annual meeting in December, I discussed what Quality Initiatives would look like from an examiner’s perspective. I suggested three pillars: 1) appropriate time to do the work, 2) effective and organized training and 3) resources to support efficient examination.
These pillars are not intended to diminish what the Agency is attempting to accomplish with its Quality Initiatives, but are an enhancement of those initiatives and a reminder that a basic competent examination is a complex task under any circumstances, and that without the necessary time, training and support, it is extremely difficult to achieve.
POPA would like the Agency to step up its support of the examiners and the existing examination process. Were the Agency to do so, it would help pave the way for successful adoption of quality enhancements in the Patent Corps.
Pillar 1-Time: There seems to be general acceptance of the notion that production goals that have not been adjusted since the 1970’s (other than for RCE adjustment) are in need of additional time to account for increased complexity of the art, a vastly larger search collection and a more demanding examination process. These adjustments have not been made, leaving some dockets with an untenably low amount of time for examination. There is no excuse for having any docket areas undercompensated. Where reasonable time has not been provided, it needs to be corrected.
Pillar 2-Training:Examiners are being trained on more requirements than at any other time in the history of the Office, with the vast majority of the training including a slide set or CBT (computer-based training). These slide sets or CBTs are mechanisms for delivering training. They are ineffective for providing lasting reference sources for the examiner to refer back to during examination. Creation of easy to use reference materials is a much needed aspect of training that has been largely ignored by the Agency. It is difficult for examiners to concentrate on training delivered in short sessions of an hour or two in the midst of their examination work. Therefore, it is critical that there be an efficient way to refer back to training information. POPA would like all training provided with well indexed outlines so that examiners could easily review and use the information conveyed. Having training better organized with more examiner-friendly training materials will provide the framework for incorporating any future enhancements into the examination process.
Pillar 3-Resources: Enough can’t be said about the need for efficient,reliable resources to assist in examination. These resources take several different forms. We are all aware of the recent and ongoing problems with the IT systems. Work processes that examiners are expected to use to have terminal disclaimers considered, set up appeal or allowance conferences and possibly even to get assistance or consideration from their SPE are often time-consuming, inconvenient and burdensome.
POPA recognizes that the IT issues are complex and will take time and money to resolve. Until the IT issues are resolved, this should be the main focus of the Agency. No examination, quality or otherwise, can occur without proper operation of these systems.
Supervisors should have assisting examiners in successfully completing examinations as their main focus. Many supervisors do an excellent job of this already. However, there are supervisors who don’t take the time to get a correct answer for an examiner with a question, who don’t take the time to learn the art assigned to their unit and even a few who do harm to examination by causing unnecessary upheaval in their art units. These supervisors should step up and become a useful resource for their unit or should step down.
Examination can be improvedby creating an environment in which examiners’work is properly supported, examiners are effectively trained, and examiners are provided with adequate tools and sufficient time to do a quality job. Quality enhancements could be successfully implemented in such an environment. As we move forward with discussions about the Agency’s quality initiatives, we would like the Agency to engage with POPA and the examining corps in supporting the initiatives outlines above.
We invite all of you to send us your ideas. What can be done to help you with examination? Please send your comments to POPA_comments@verizon.net with the subject line “Quality”.