This important POPA update primarily concerns the following five issues, which have been raised by many employees: (1) Computer Downtime, (2) Quality Trackers, (3) Docket Management Improvement Periods, (4) Denials of Signatory Authority, and (5) Pilot Programs.

  1. Computer Downtime: We have been receiving many complaints from hotelers who are not being compensated for lost time when they have a computer or network outage.  When denying non-production time, managers frequently rely on old guidance stating:

The combination of the IFP work schedule and mid-day flex afford significant flexibility in the workday. Therefore, requests for non-production time will normally not be granted for service disruptions of short duration to power at the alternate work site or with the employee’s Internet Service Provider (ISP).

 

POPA has been working diligently to change the way hotelers are treated and to have the above language removed from the PHP Guidelines.  Hotelers should be provided non-production time for computer or network outages in the same situations as employees on campus.  These situations include (1) when they are working with Management to solve a computer or network problem and (2) when they are required to be at or near their computer to see whether a computer or network problem can be resolved or has been resolved.  Just like employees on campus, hotelers have schedules; they have times reserved for working, and they have times reserved for other commitments, during which they cannot work.  POPA is currently in discussions with Management on an agreement that will provide hotelers the same opportunities as other employees for receiving non-production time for computer or network outages.  POPA’s position is that decisions made by Management regarding requests for non-production time should be based on the factual circumstances relating to the computer or network outage, rather than based merely on the employee’s hoteling status.   

 

  1. Quality Trackers: I have had extensive conversations with examiners about the use of quality trackers. Quality trackers are a draconian way of alleging errors.  The over-usage of quality trackers is burdensome to supervisors and disheartening to employees.  Patent examiners are the only employees in the Agency receiving electronic notifications when they allegedly make errors in their work.  It would be more efficient, more effective, and more collaborative if the majority of these error allegations were communicated to examiners through a conversation, rather than through an electronic notification.  POPA’s officers have spoken to Management about this issue and have received a positive response.  While it is unlikely that quality trackers will disappear completely, POPA expects changes in management policy in the near future that will greatly diminish their usage and, consequently, the drain they are on examiners.

 

  1. Docket Management Improvement Periods: Patent examiners receive warnings when they are unsuccessful (below 88%) in Docket Management (DM) for a defined period of time, usually a quarter or longer.  Examiners who are unsuccessful in DM typically have many applications at or near the DM ceiling.  Placing examiners on improvement periods when their dockets are in such poor condition means that in order to increase their DM score to an acceptable level, the examiners have to complete significantly more work during the improvement period, as compared to other (Fully Successful) examiners over that same period of time.  This is because in order to be fully successful during the warning period, the very low DM scores associated with completing applications at or near the DM ceiling must be balanced or offset by high DM scores associated with completing applications that have recently been docketed to the examiner.  We have asked Management to consider making adjustments to examiners’ dockets prior to the start of a DM improvement period so that examiners have a fair chance of completing the improvement period at an acceptable level for DM.  We recently began discussing this issue with Management and will continue to advocate for a fairer DM improvement period policy.

 

  1. Denials of Signatory Authority: POPA’s Grievance Team frequently provides guidance to employees who have been denied Signatory Authority, Partial or Full.  As part of this process, the team reviews Letters of Concern and Examiner Rebuttals in order to assess the merits of the Agency’s final decision. At times, these Letters of Concern are vague and indefinite, leaving the Examiner to guess the issue that management is concerned with.  When the examiner responds to a Letter of Concern, even in situations where the Examiner provides legitimate reasons for his or her positions, the examiner may receive a final denial with no explanation whatsoever as to the flaws in his or her rationale. The Signatory Program is an opportunity for the Examiners to prove themselves.  When management’s decision is that an Examiner is not yet ready for the grant, it is imperative that a clear explanation of its rationale be provided, including steps forward towards success.  POPA is advocating for substantive Letters of Concern and when a final denial is necessary, substantive denials - e., responses that articulate the basis for alleging and maintaining the errors in question.  Then and only then, can examiners learn from the experience, modify their work accordingly, and be better prepared to make another attempt at gaining Signatory Authority. 

 

  1. Pilot Programs: POPA regularly meets with Management to discuss proposed and monitor existing Pilot Programs to ensure that the programs are reasonable and that employees are fairly compensated for their participation.  You are our best source of feedback concerning Pilot Programs.  If you have concerns about a Pilot Program, try to find the time to share your concerns with us.

Finally, we are always interested in your feedback.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch with POPA to pass on your concerns about our workplace.  It helps us do a better job representing you.

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