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New USPTO Backlog Goal and Incentives

By: Michael A. Leonard II


The USPTO recently announced a new initiative to slash the backlog to below 700,000 applications by the end of this fiscal year (September 30, 2010). In announcing the initiative, Director Kappos sent the following e-mail to Examiners:

Slashing the Backlog to 699,000

The new patent initiative to bring our backlog below 700,000 by the end of this fiscal year is an exciting and challenging opportunity. Our success will greatly benefit the IP community, our agency and most importantly the American economy. By processing more applications now we can reach shorter first action pendency for all those in the backlog. This, in turn, will greatly benefit the country as a whole by bringing products to market faster, creating jobs and stimulating our economic recovery from the worst recession in memory. As an agency, achieving the 699,000 goal will demonstrate to our stakeholders and Congress what our talented workforce can do when we pull together to reach a common goal. This, in turn, will enhance our prospects for additional resources when we request them in the future.

When we meet the 699,000 goal by the end of FY 2010 — and I am confident we will — each SPE, QAS and Manager Trainer will receive a $699 bonus and we will have a celebration for all USPTO employees. This will be in addition to any award these folks might receive as part of their FY10 performance appraisal. In this way we will be rewarding our line leaders for mentoring, assisting, and encouraging our examiners to go above and beyond to achieve a key agency goal.

As many of you know, management has been working in close partnership with the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA) to revise the examiner PAP for the first time in over 20 years. We expect to have a new pendency award in place for patent examiners once the new PAP goes into effect. Next year, I hope to be able to present a more refined set of awards for all employees which reward performance that aligns with our key objectives.

During my first year as Director of the USPTO, I have had the opportunity to talk with employees throughout the agency. I have come away from those conversations with a new appreciation for the dedication and commitment of those who work here. It is this fact that convinces me that working together we can and will achieve the stretch goal of reducing the backlog to 699,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

For more information on the 699,000 goal, including FAQs and bi-weekly updates towards our progress, please visit http://ptoweb/patents/699 or click the “Backlog 699” button on the intranet home page.

As always, I welcome your feedback on this initiative and other ideas you have for reducing the new case backlog.

David Kappos

As stated in the Director’s e-mail, the target goal is to reduce the backlog to 699,000 applications. Director Kappos stated that achieving the goal will allegedly help the IP community, the USPTO and the American economy in general. In order to achieve the goal, certain incentives are proposed for Examiners of various levels.

Incentivizing Examiners

In order to attempt to incentivize the examining corps to reach these goals, the Director announced that Supervisory Patent Examiners (SPEs), Quality Assurance Specialists (QASs) and Manager Trainers will each receive a $699 bonus if the goal is met. As stated by Director Kappos, “[i]n this way we will be rewarding our line leaders for mentoring, assisting, and encouraging our examiners to go above and beyond to achieve a key agency goal.” Presumably, this is an attempt to create a top-down incentive system that will motivate senior Examiners to encourage their subordinates to achieve the goal.

Also, a celebration for all USPTO employees will be held of the goal is met. This does not seem like a strong incentive for non-supervisory Examiners and in the FAQs (discussed below), the USPTO stated “[i]n the future we hope to be able to present a more refined set of awards for employees which reward performance that aligns with our key objectives, including the reduction of both pendency and the backlog of new cases.” However, an incentive may lie in the increase in authorized overtime to 40 hours per biweek in July 16, 2010. This allows Examiners to earn a bonus up to a certain paycap based on their position. Accordingly, it appears that financial incentives for supervisory and non-supervisory Examiners may be present to attempt to achieve the initiative.

However, while the goal is laudible, whether the incentive structure is sufficient remains to be seen. In fact, one non-supervisory Examiner, who wishes to remain anonymous, indicated that he was not motivated by the initiative's incentives. He stated "[w]anna guess how motivated I am by the possability of the people above me who don't actually examine cases getting a bonus if we meet the goal[?] The "celebration" also provides no motivation. I'm not sure if it motivates me to try and get my counts in other ways as [a] 'screw you' back to them, but I certainly won't be [coming] in and working overtime to get my extra cases in so people who don't do any of the work can get a bonus."

FAQs for 699,000 Application Goal

The USPTO also provided a series of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the initiative. For instance, the FAQs indicate that on average, each Examiner will need to examine 4 additional new cases between now and the end of the fiscal year (which ends in September). This gives Examiners a little more than two months to Examine the additional cases. Also, the USPTO indicated that the reduction will represent less than a 5% reduction in the USPTO’s overall backlog.


The management at the USPTO has demonstrated a strong commitment to reducing the overall backlog of applications. The stated goal of the newest initiative in this respect is to reduce the overall backlog to 699,000 applications by September 30, 2010. While certain incentives are explicitly provided for supervisory Examiners, and perhaps implicitly for non-supervisory Examiners, whether these incentives are sufficient to facilitate reaching this goal remains to be seen. It seems that providing more explicit incentives to non-supervisory Examiners to achieve this goal upon its announcement may have been a better choice.