[Career] Interview with USPTO

Today, I had a phone interview with a supervisory patent examiner in the imaging and diagnostics field of the biotechnology division. It was a very nice conversation. I asked him plenty of questions about working for the PTO and since he has been there for ~9 years, he knew all the answers. We even talked about the Vibram five fingered shoes.

Some things that stood out to me during our conversation.
  • Patent examiners cannot apply for patents because they would have an unfair advantage.
  • After working for 2 years at the PTO, you can be eligible for hoteling (or working at home). You would only need to go to the office in Alexandria, VA occasionally. So, patent examiners could work from home anywhere in the country. They would provide you with the laptop, monitor, printer, everything you need to work from home.
  • Depending on your GS level, you would need to examine a patent in a certain amount of time. He gave me the example that someone may be expected to examine a patent in 11 hours (i.e. look up all prior art, determine if the invention is patentable, etc).
  • Prior to being let loose in the PTO, you will take courses and training for 4 months, 40 hours a week. That's more hours than k-12 and college. However, you do receive a certificate at the end.
  • I believe he mentioned that the USPTO plans on hiring 1000 patent examiners a year for a few years. Budgets are being examined all over in the government, but apparently, the US is trying to promote innovation as shown by this activity plus that of the FDA and energy.

A variation of some questions they ask:
  • How did you handle a tight time constraint?
  • When writing a technical report, what was your plan of action, who was your audience and what was the result of this report?
  • How have you dealt with a difficult customer or client (can also talk about difficult professors, advisors, group members, classmates, etc)?
  • Describe a time you had to make a decision and how it affected your project or others?