Success is pending

Depending on your perspective, IT at the Patent and Trademark Office ( is either a state-of-the-art success or a billion-dollar train that might be running off the tracks.

In February, the Industry Advisory Council and the CIO Council singled out the agency’s Trademark Electronic Applications System, which lets users electronically file trademark applications, as one of the top five e-government programs of the year.

But in a June report, the Government Accountability Office lambasted PTO. GAO said the agency, after spending more than $1 billion, “is still not yet effectively positioned to process patent applications in a fully automated environment; moreover, when and how it will actually achieve this capability remains uncertain.”

Agency goals

Even a PTO study commissioned last year showed that its CIO office couldn’t handle agency automation goals, GAO pointed out. However, the report said, “USPTO’s director and new chief information officer have recognized the need to improve the agency’s planning and management of its automation initiatives.”

That is the most salient line, according to Texan David J. Freeland, the agency’s CIO since January. It was as a result of the PTO study, he said, “that undersecretary [Jon W.] Dudas brought me in. My primary concern was to make us more customer focused, as well as more efficient.”

TEAS is even more effective now than when it garnered the industry award, he said. E-filed trademark applications have increased from 8 percent in 2000 to 73 percent this spring and 91 percent this month, he said.

But in contrast, the electronic filing of patent applications has been a bust.
Only an estimated 2 percent of patent applications came in electronically in 2004.

The system was doomed from the start, Freeland said. “The problem is, we didn’t work well with customers ... to ensure that they could use the application. They found the system difficult to use, the files they had didn’t work with it and the result was that the customers didn’t want to work with it. We have a new patent electronic filing system project under way. We are re-engineering that from end to end.”

The old system required applicants to submit files in Extensible Markup Language format. “For the most part, their systems weren’t readily able to meet that requirement,” Freeland said. “This time around, we’ve worked with representatives from patent submitters’ groups to ensure interoperability.”

The agency plans to make its patent and trademark processing entirely electronic by next year, and by 2010 to complete review of patent applications in an average of 31 months and trademark applications in 15. Freeland’s other driving concern has been budget management. He’s hired a new financial manager. “I’m adamant about good fiscal policy,” he said.

Budget projections

The president’s fiscal 2006 budget would give the agency $1.7 billion, a 10 percent boost from this year, plus full access to fees it collects: about $148.5 million. It would give the Patent Automation System $80.1 million, up from this year’s $63.9 million.

But, Freeland said, “we’re taking a step back with the budget.” The agency’s IT budget was $227 million in 2004, went to $304 million in 2005, and is projected at $306 million in 2006, he said. The 2007 forecast is about $304 million. “For fiscal 2005, I’ve reduced IT spending by $26.5 million, so we’re down to $277.5 million,” he said.

Most of that decrease has come from examining IT operations agencywide, requiring managers to justify IT requests, and identifying and eliminating duplicative processes, he said. “As part of the exercise, we’ve also reviewed budgets for 2006 and reduced it to about $291 million. It’s a bit less of a reduction for 2007, but it’s still being worked on.” n

Who’s in charge

  • David J. Freeland: CIO

  • Ronald P. Hack: Deputy CIO for IT services

  • Kay Melvin: Acting Deputy CIO for Systems Modernization

  • David Santosa: Chief Computer Scientist

  • Barbara Sutton: Manager, Life Cycle Management

  • Robert W. Rathbun: Executive Director, Systems Development and Maintenance Services

  • Kay Melvin: Executive Director, Customer Information Services

  • Connie Davis: Executive Director, Architecture, Engineering and Technical Services

  • Ronald P. Hack: Executive Director, IT Operations and Customer Support Services

CIO’s IT housecleaning plans

  • Reorganize PTO’s internal IT shop to better enable the CIO to manage budget and quality.
  • Improve strategic planning and IT project management.
  • Initiate more rigorous IT portfolio
  • Create a detailed disaster recovery plan for PTO data centers.
  • Eliminate duplicative applications and processes.
  • Streamline IT infrastructure and eliminate data and application silos.
  • Enhance IT tools for patent examiners.

Major projects

  • 21st Century Strategic Plan. The project would make PTO processes completely paperless. Its cornerstone is Patent eGov for electronic filing of patents. It initially proved too cumbersome for most patent applicants, who shunned it. Next step: a complete makeover to leverage applicants’ existing systems and file formats.

  • Image File Wrapper system. It manages electronic documents in Patent eGov, ranked in 2003 by Winter Corp. as the world’s fifth-largest transactional database at 5.4T. Patent examiners get immediate access through the Electronic Desktop Application Navigator, rolled out in July 2003. Next step: Replace the old system, which produced images only of documents, to make the documents text-searchable. Estimated cost: $56 million.

  • Document e-Transfer. It lets PTO securely and electronically transfer sensitive patent application files to Reed Technology and Information Services Inc. of Horsham, Pa., for publication. RTIS won the $876 million, 10-year contract in 2004.

  • Trademark Document Retrieval. The system allows viewing of trademark documents online. It has more than 460,000 trademark applications totaling 8 million pages. The agency adds 300,000 documents annually.

  • IT modernization. Computer Sciences Corp. and Raytheon Technical Services Co. in January won contracts worth up to $280 million over eight years for systems development and integration, testing, and training to modernize business processes.

  • E-Hearing Room. This secure videoconferencing system via ISDN was launched in April and hosts appeals and contested cases before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, and the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.

Sami Lais is a freelance writer in Takoma Park, Md.

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