Margaret (Peggy) Focarino, 58, the new Commissioner for Patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) oversaw a variety of reforms while she served as Deputy Commissioner under former USPTO Director David Kappos.
In 2009, when Kappos became director and Focarino became Deputy Commissioner, the USPTO’s process for reviewing patents hadn’t changed in three decades. The office’s backlog was huge and growing.
Working with the patent examiners’ union, Focarino gave examiners more time and flexibility to handle patent applications, and introduced rewards for productivity. She also oversaw increased hiring of examiners and improved training and leadership opportunities.
The result was a reduction in the backlog of patents from 750,000 in 2009 to less than 590,000 by August of 2013, even as applications increased by an average of five percent per year. Attrition among examiners also decreased.
Processing time was also reduced, from 27.2 months for an initial determination in 2009 to 16.5 months today. The office’s goal is to reduce the time to 10 months by 2015.
Forcarino also oversaw the introduction of new procedures to measure the quality of patent examination.
The previous quality factors were: (1) the quality of the action setting forth the final disposition of the application, (2) the quality of the actions taken during the course of the examination, and (3) the perceived quality of the patent process as measured through external quality surveys of applicants and practitioners.
The new factors measure: (1) the quality of the examiner’s initial search, (2) the degree to which the first action on the merits follows best examination practices, (3) the degree to which global USPTO data is indicative of compact, robust prosecution, and (4) the degree to which patent prosecution quality is reflected in the perceptions of the examination corps as measured by internal quality surveys.
For her accomplishments, Focarino received the Department of Commerce Silver Medal for Leadership in 2010.
Focarino, who has a degree in physics from the State University of New York, started her USPTO career as a junior patent examiner in 1977 – one of two women out of the ten patent examiners hired that year. (In more recent years, the USPTO has hired about 1,200 patent examiners annually.) She is the first female Patent Commissioner.
As Commissioner, Focarino acts as the chief operating officer for the USPTO, overseeing the nine Patent Technology Centers and coordinating the patent application examination process. She also led the “road show” to open new patent offices in 2012.