USPTO Tried To Hide Abuse And Fraud By Patent Examiners From Inspector General

from the part-II dept

So, we just wrote about the fact that there was apparently fairly widespread abuse and fraud by patent examiners, mostly those working from home, in lying about the hours they put in and getting paid for work they didn't do. However, what may be much more concerning was the fact that the USPTO tried to hide this from the Inspector General who was investigating this. As the Washington Post notes, an initial internal report detailed many more examples of fraud and abuse, which disappeared from the final report that was handed over.
But when it came time last summer for the patent office to turn over the findings to its outside watchdog, the most damaging revelations had disappeared. The report sent to Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser concluded that it was impossible to know if the whistleblowers’ allegations of systemic abuses were true.

“What we hoped to see was an unfiltered response,” Zinser said.“That’s not what this was. It’s a lot less sensational. The true extent of the problem was not being conveyed to us.”

The original findings, by contrast, raise “fundamental issues” with the business model of the patent office, which oversees an essential function of U.S. commerce, said Zinser, who was provided a copy of the original by a patent official.
The white washing of the abuse seems particularly problematic, given that it paints a very different picture, where the problems aren't so pervasive, and that the problems don't go back to leadership (hmm...).
Both reports conclude that policies negotiated with the patent examiners’ union have left managers with few tools to monitor their staffs. Both acknowledge that supervisors have limited access to records that could prove suspected time fraud, resulting in negligible disciplinary action.

But the original one describes a culture of fraud that is overlooked by senior leaders, lax enforcement of the rules and the resulting frustration of many front-line supervisors. The version provided to the watchdog was far less conclusive, saying that managers who were interviewed held “inconsistent” views on whether examiners were gaming the system.
The USPTO is trying to frame this distinction as being that the first report was a "rough draft" and the latter was a more complete version, but it seems like the opposite. The first was pretty complete, and the second is... missing a bunch.

The fact that the USPTO tried to hide this abuse -- and the fact that it appears to be systemic -- also suggestions an operation that is not looking to fix the problems, but to brush them under the rug. It certainly does not inspire much confidence.





Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Aug 11th, 2014 @ 1:27pm

    What the...?

    Okay... I know the FBI is dysfunctional, the CIA can't lie to save themselves and the DoJ is in the back pocket of Hollywood.

    The GAO doesn't have enough power, local police have run amok, and the IP offices are all over the place.

    So... Who's really in charge here? These bureaucracies are not doing well internally and you'd have to be crazy not to notice all the turmoil as it comes to light.

    The leaders are running scared, there's no motivation at the bottom and the list of problems just go on and on...

    At this point, the systems are truly broken. It's just awe inspiring how a government refuses to acknowledge and correct mistakes but deluded itself about how solvent it is while it hurts itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    DannyB (profile), Aug 11th, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    The manglers have few tools to monitor their staffs?

    Time fraud on the part of employees?

    If employees will cheat their employer, what are the odds that they don't care about the larger consequences?

    And here we are in the second decade of the 21st century with patent trolls and patent lawsuits run amok.

    What are the odds that these cheating (and maybe non cheating) employees have granted large numbers of patents that should have been laughed out of the patent office faster than you can say "slide to unlock"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    DannyB (profile), Aug 11th, 2014 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    s/manglers/managers/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    twinsdad9901, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    DannyB:
    You had it right the first time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Both reports conclude that policies negotiated with the patent examiners’ union have left managers with few tools to monitor their staffs. Both acknowledge that supervisors have limited access to records that could prove suspected time fraud, resulting in negligible disciplinary action.

    Guess they should hire Managers that can actually do their jobs , this sounds like a finger pointing issue and the blame game. The buck stops here. Blaming the employees is a pretty pitiful excuse for not doing ones job.

     

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  6.  
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    electricalpatentexaminer (profile), Aug 11th, 2014 @ 4:01pm

    Not shocked

    Sounds like upper management....They are the ones that need investigated not the Patent Examiners. They constantly bend the rules and threaten to fire Examiners when they themselves are the ones that break the rules.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 4:04pm

    when you think about it, the financial meltdown a few years back started all sorts of things to be investigated. as always, the people that caused the problem get away virtually scot free and the people who have the least get the blame for the problems as well as putting everything right again. those employed here have, so it seems, been enjoying a nice life at tax payers expense. now they have been caught with fingers in the till, the 'altered reports are coming out and the excuses are starting. if there was nothing going on, there would be no need to change the reports, let alone try to deny any wrong booking of work-time

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 5:03pm

    Back to square one, do not pass go

    "..“fundamental issues” with the business model of the patent office.."

    Fundamental issue #1: The USPTO has a business model. It does?

    And oh yeah, somebodies NEED TO BE FIRED.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    rapnel, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 5:23pm

    Re: What the...?

    "So... Who's really in charge here?"

    Lawyers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    rapnel, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 5:25pm

    Re: Re: Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    :q!

    I liked manglers.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 5:35pm

    Ronald J. Riley has paid for some very expensive cocksuckers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    electricalpatentexaminer (profile), Aug 11th, 2014 @ 6:41pm

    Jessica Patterson?

    She one of the most crooked at the PTO!!!!

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 7:40pm

    Jail Time

    When, when, when will ANY of these lying scum face jail time?

    They work for US(you and me), not the Govt Leviathan that is destroying the country.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    SpaceLifeForm, Aug 11th, 2014 @ 7:55pm

    Rounded corners anyone?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Rocky, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 1:54am

    Re:

    You know what, if they had employees that did their job properly they wouldn't really need managers.

    The basic premise of a manager is that you need someone to manage your employees because you don't trust them to do their work properly otherwise. And if you also hire incompetent managers you are SOL.

     

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  16.  
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    LduN (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 5:59am

    Clearly the fact that so much abuse happens justifies more access for the NSA to "monitor" "productivity of the workforce, both public and private. I mean the economy is vital and therefore being unproductive makes you a terrorist.

    (posted from work, I must be a terrorist)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 8:17am

    Application for Patent of a business process to defraud the patent office:

    These steps taken to pretend to be working for the patent office while actually doing little work and still getting paid.

    1) Acquire position in the patent office as a patent examiner (usually found as a prize in a snack box or this position can be purchased at your local government building)
    2) Apply to work from home as a patent examiner. If you include in your application to work from home that you "really really" entend to do a good job, it will usually get approved because we have too many examiners and too little space anyway.
    3) Open patent office laptop at 8 AM
    4) Go eat breakfast
    5) Once done with breakfast, reply to any email you have received recently that your boss is on the TO or CC list
    6) Review your patent queue for any computer related patents that look complicated - approve these patent applications so it looks like you are getting something done, nobody will understand them except the lawyers anyway
    7) Surf the internet for awhile
    8) Between 11 AM and 12 PM, reply to another email similar to the one above
    9) Go to lunch
    10) Watch Judge Judy for awhile
    11) Review your patent queue for any computer related patents that look simple - reject them so it looks like you are getting something done
    12) Between 3 PM and 4 PM, reply to another email similar to the ones above
    13) Submit your timesheet for the day

    Repeat steps 3 through 13 daily. These steps can be completed from anywhere with an internet connection, so feel free to work from your local pub a few times a week as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Michael, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 8:18am

    Re:

    They have to approve it - what are they going to do, argue that this is obvious?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    ThatFatMan (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 9:07am

    Re:

    PTO is fee funded, or so we are led to believe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Why do we have government employees organized against the government?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Michael W. Perry, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 12:16pm

    Prior art

    This pretending to work from home may be one reason why so many patents have been issued with seemingly no check for prior art.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    AlecRawls (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 1:02pm

    Public unions should be illegal

    ALL unions should be illegal. No other sellers of a product are allowed to collude on price and sellers of labor should not be an exception, but allowing government workers to unionize is far worse because it fundamentally violates the first principle of our republican form of government (guaranteed in the Article IV section 4 guarantee to the states that they shall have a republican form of government).

    The first principle of republicanism, as stated by Alexander Hamilton at the New York constitutional debates, is that the people shall choose who is to represent them. In other words, we have to be able to "throw the bums out," but unionized workers cannot be thrown out. Their union status grants them privleges vis a vis their employer, the American People, and that is fundamentally unrepublican, and in fact is a violation of the Constitution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anon Patent Attorney, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    Not very likely. Examiners are evaluated based on the number of points ("counts") they accumulate, and they accumulate many more counts by baselessly rejecting applications and forcing continuations (one count for each rejection plus one for each continuation) than they get for allowing an application (one count for allowance). Granting applications that don't meet the legal requirements is the last thing in the world they would do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Antistotle, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 2:57pm

    Re: Re: Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    No, you spelled it right the first time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    mitch, Aug 13th, 2014 @ 7:38am

    -- "So, we just wrote about the fact that there was apparently fairly widespread abuse and fraud by patent examiners, mostly those working from home, in lying about the hours they put in and getting paid for work they didn't do. "

    Folks the wheel is not broken. If examiners do nothing for two weeks have they done any work? Yes when in the previous two weeks they completed twice the amount of cases and are now coasting. And yes, retroactively, if they complete additional cases before the end of the quarter.

    The patent office wants consistent production every biweek but the report goes beyond that. It says examiners must have continuous "work" not only every two weeks, not only every day, but down to the hour. So according to the report if an examiner spends 5 hours to finish a case that the PTO allots 10 hours, they are stealing from the government when finishing early and doing nothing else. That's a ridiculous narrow definition of "work".

    Put it this way, can an air traffic controller "work" 75% of the time while in the control tower? No, that would be chaotic and dangerous and a breach of their duty. But an examiner can hand in 75% of her production over two weeks and still be ok as long as by the end of the quarter the overall production is met. That happens all the time and 75% production is considered the de facto minimum acceptable biweekly production to earn the biweekly paycheck there.

    Examiners' paychecks remain relatively constant while hourly/daily/weekly work output varies over three months. Examiners are obligated to do X amount of work in three months. That's the definition of "work" as defined by the PTO and how ratings are given. There's no good way to change that. Their production system has been tweaked occasionally for over two decades so maybe there are a few more tweaks left to do. The most important thing is to get examiners to produce, not nitpick what they are doing at any given hour.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Few tools to monitor their staffs?

    "Granting applications that don't meet the legal requirements is the last thing in the world they would do."

    I believe this to be true. I believe that most patent examiners honestly want to grant the good patents and reject the bad. But a key part of what you said is "meet the legal requirements". I think those legal requirements are what's broken. I also believe that patent examiners are not given sufficient time and resources to do an excellent job.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Dave Nevogt, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 11:58am

    Petition the USPTO to use software to monitor abuse

    We have started a petition here - http://chn.ge/1t43OxW - that urges the USPTO to use simple software in order to monitor this and save taxpayers millions. The technology exists and we have offered ours for free in this petition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Tweety, Aug 14th, 2014 @ 8:16pm

    The reason for all this scrutiny against the USPTO: the belief that taxpayer money is somehow being misused. Fact: USPTO is self-funded and is one of very few government agencies that actually generate revenue rather than consuming tax dollars. Unfortunately, rather than being funded by itself, its funding is "allocated" just like all other federal agencies. All its revenue goes towards the pool and then it only receives a tiny percentage of the money it generates. This gives taxpayers the impression that taxpayer money is being misused. Solution: pass legislation to let USPTO be able to stand on its own. Let it use its own revenue instead of feeding it a (relatively) tiny annual budget. This way, it becomes clear to the public that it is not taxpayer money that is being misused. Any alleged "fraud" within the organization would then become nobody's business but the USPTO itself, and there would no longer be need for scrutiny. The truth may be hard to swallow, but we are wasting WAAYYYY more tax dollars having these interviews/investigations done, and to no avail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Easily Amused (profile), Aug 15th, 2014 @ 12:32am

    Re:

    that's not how revenue works...

    by that logic the IRS would have the budget currently assigned to the armed forces.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    John, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 9:41am

    A "performance" based position, NOT "by the hour"

    Each examiner has a docket and a work load expectancy. As long as they meet their work loads who cares how many hours they work? The PTO has such a big backlog that performance and work production should be the only concern. Some examiners are super-producers are very efficient and should enjoy the extra time on their hands if they "get their work done".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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