USPTO, staff reach uneasy agreement

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"Doing home work"

About 700 experienced patent examiners will be able to work from home one day a week but without the software their union says they need to their jobs well.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Patent Office Professional Association have reached an agreement on a telework program that was suspended in June 2002 when the two groups clashed on how it should proceed.

The agreement "expanded the coverage to a lot more people," said Ronald Stern, the association's president. Originally, the program would have allowed only 350 examiners to work at home, he added.

"Unfortunately, in the area of hardware and software support, the agency is just being stingy and, I think, a little bit foolish," Stern said, "because they won't provide the software that worked before."

When the telework program started in July 2001, examiners used a scaled-down version of the software they use at the office. The software helped examiners analyze applications but didn't allow them to access secure databases. Rather than extend software support, USPTO officials have decided not to provide software or hardware for teleworkers.

"It's far too costly and complicated at this point to provide the hardware, software [and] lines," USPTO spokeswoman Brigid Quinn said.

Patent examiners access more than 900 databases, and searches can take hours. Quinn said examiners wouldn't be able to perform searches quickly from home and instead will write and do paperwork, possibly relying on their home computers and later pasting their work into the proper forms at the office.

Stern said that the agreement was not the "most desirable" compromise and that he hopes to build on the program.

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