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Highlights

Increases in the volume and complexity of patent applications have lengthened the amount of time it takes the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to process them. In addition, concerns have continued about USPTO's efforts to hire and retain an adequate patent examination workforce that can not only meet the demand for patents but also help reduce the growing backlog of unexamined patent applications. In this context, GAO was asked to determine for the last 5 years (1) USPTO's process for identifying its annual hiring estimates and the relationship of these estimates to the patent application backlog; (2) the extent to which patent examiner hiring has been offset by attrition, and the factors that may contribute to this attrition; and (3) the extent to which USPTO's retention efforts align with patent examiners' reasons for staying with the agency. For this review, GAO surveyed 1,420 patent examiners, and received an 80 percent response rate.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the assumptions that the agency uses to establish patent examiner production goals and revise those assumptions as appropriate.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office changed the patent examiner production goal system to one that, among other things, will provide more time for examiners to review a patent application and is designed to reduce patent examiner attrition.

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