Working at the USPTO

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Anonymous User
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Working at the USPTO

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Aug 11, 2009 11:37 pm

While it's not entirely common, there are a number of patent examiners who secure jobs at the USPTO after getting their law degree. You should generally not consider this option unless you are unable to get another kind of employment. Some JD-examiners end up at the USPTO because most firms require 1-2 yrs of patent experience, and not having that experience, decide that working at the PTO as an examiner is a surefire way of building up some street cred prior to trying to find a real prosecution job. This is not a wise decision. First off, such resume building should be done before going to law school. Secondly, such a job would likely lead to significant atrophy of your legal skills rendering you useless for employment at law firms later. Third, working at the PTO for too long gives you an undesirable mindset that partners do not want their associates to have.

Another option that should be considered for lawyers (technical requirements to pass the patent bar are not required for this position) is the Trademark office. Trademark examiners are necessarily attorneys, and most work from home (and follow the quota system described below).

For post-college graduates, the PTO is a more attractive option as you are given the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the patent system of the USA with a job that has relatively no competition. Flexible hours, paid transportation subside, and the lure of having a fully-funded PT law degree are some of the perks offered by the USPTO. One of the best held-secrets by recruiting, however, is the quota system. Every examiner has a quota, the number of docketed cases that must be acted upon or disposed per two-week period. Failing to meet this quota can result in termination of your employment, and may result in your working unpaid overtime for absolutely no reason. You should only plan to work as an examiner for 1-2 years before going off to get a JD if you want to maximize your attractive to potential employers after law school. Experience at the USPTO counts as patent experience for the purposes of employment at most law firms, but does not count towards years on the partnership track.

Otherwise, the PTO offers an alluring career for those who can handle it. Promotions are 100% performance based, and only management positions are restricted on a need-basis. Examiners can be paid at the same level as management given enough years of experience. The PTO has a great work from home program, offers a multitude of performance based bonuses, job security, and the comfort of knowing that you're paid more than all other government employees at the same pay grade.

Outside of examining, there are a number of employment opportunities for lawyers at the USPTO. Positions not related to intellectual property law are not of interest to this discussion. A number of positions, such as counsel representing the USPTO before lawsuits filed against the Office by inventors, or being a patent judge presiding over the Board of Appeals and Interferences are available. Having extensive previous experience as a examiner, a patent prosecution attorney, or a patent litigation attorney makes one extremely competitive for these positions.

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Ken
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Re: Working at the USPTO

Postby Ken » Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:04 am

Thank you for the excellent post. This is exactly what the employment law forum was created for.

Being a trademark attorney and having worked with over 100 USPTO Trademark Examiners, most of them were pretty bright and knew what they were doing, although one did wonder how a few secured their jobs. But overall I was impressed with them and being able to work from home obviously is a huge plus. I anticipate that their pay was well below Big Law salary ranges, but I am sure they clocked out after 40 hours and their hourly rate was likely not that much lower since I was working 60+ hours a week while at my firm.

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Re: Working at the USPTO

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 12, 2009 1:21 am

I'm not sure what the hiring practices are for Trademark examiners, but for patent examiners, you are required to make an account with usajobs.gov, and file your application via that website, including a resume and transcript. Your application is kept on file for a year, and a manager or HR will contact you up to twelve months later to schedule a phone interview. The phone interview is pretty straight forward and involves some behavioral interviewing. If you get this phone call, the job is basically yours to lose.

If people have further questions, don't hesitate to ask!

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sentinal5656
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Re: Working at the USPTO

Postby sentinal5656 » Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:24 pm

Do many patent law firms require 1 to 2 years of patent experience? What is an alternative for gaining this experience without working as an examiner for the USPTO?

Would you recommend working for the USPTO after your 1L during the summer? Are there better options for 1L summer employment for a law student aspiring to become a patent attorney?

starstruck393
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Re: Working at the USPTO

Postby starstruck393 » Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:39 pm

Many patent firms do require experience. The most common route is through clerking; many do ls part time and clerk part time, while others are full time in ls and clerk during the summers. I'd have to disagree with the point about working as an examiner is undesirable. All of the patent attorneys I've talked to think it's an asset, especially because you can gain the perspective of the side you'll be up against for the rest of your career. In fact, I know a brilliant partner and firm president that was a former examiner, and credits much of his ability to his experience at the PTO.

As for working there during the summers of ls, the PTO used to have an internship program, but cut it this past year due to budget constraints, and they are unlikely to bring it back in the near future with the continuing financial issues they are dealing with. I'm not sure how much they hired law students anyway. The two people that I know who interned there both did so during undergrad. The PTO is skeptical about lawyers/law students because they are seen as a flight risk to leave, and I'm sure with the limited hiring going on there a candidate that seems less likely to leave for a firm after only a year or two would stand a much better chance of being hired...

Anonymous User
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Re: Working at the USPTO

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:51 pm

sentinal5656 wrote:Do many patent law firms require 1 to 2 years of patent experience? What is an alternative for gaining this experience without working as an examiner for the USPTO?

For job postings outside of the traditional 2L SA -> full time position track, many patent law firms do require 1-2 years of patent experience. Some of these firms do not otherwise hire first year associates in the traditional sense. Alternatives for getting this experience include clerking (as mentioned above), or, for the most part, working as a patent agent. If you're already going to law school there's no sense in worrying over something you have no control over.

Would you recommend working for the USPTO after your 1L during the summer? Are there better options for 1L summer employment for a law student aspiring to become a patent attorney?

I'm not very familiar with the internship program but as far as I know, it has not been cut this year as suggested by the previous poster. A number of current examiners I know have interns (they are undergraduates). I don't think the availability of internships for 1L students at the PTO is very wide, though.

As for lawyers working at the PTO as examiners, the hiring practices of the PTO, and the attitude of some middle management, suggest that they do not care that much about flight risk. They know a fairly high percentage of new examiners leave, and most of them leave to attend law school or work at law firms. To that end, they're more receptive to hiring older employees because they are less likely to leave.

--
Last point: I never said working as an examiner is undesirable to firms. I said working as an examiner past a certain number of years is undesirable. Some examiners have a certain mindset, i.e., reject everything, attorneys don't know what they're doing, etc. That mindset is ingrained after working at the PTO for too long. Many patent attorneys I've talked to who worked at the USPTO hated their experience there (and don't think too highly of the management, either). They also seem to agree that after 1-2 years, you've pretty much learned all you can learn from working there and past 4 years, you become less attractive as a candidate to law firms.




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