Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On Why Some Leave the Patent Office? (Part I)

by Steve Reiss (

As indicating conditions of work and salary outside the Office compared with Office positions, some excerpts from letters returned with the questionnaires sent out are here printed, each quotation being from a different author:

"Working conditions as to office accommodations, etc., far superior in present position. Hours average a little longer now, but 'are entirely at my discretion. More initiative and more responsibility required out of the government service."

"Personally I feel I was entitled to about $1000 more outside the Patent Office than inside, but actually received more than $2000 more outside. Salaries of 1st Assistants in Patent Office should be raised about $1000 in accordance with this comparison."

"Hours of work practically the same as in Patent Office-More variety to present work. Less crowded conditions than in the Patent Office. Less emphasis on quantity as compared with quality of work."

"No chance for advancement in the Patent Office worth considering. Unlimited chance in present position."

"Present work far more enjoyable, far less confining and pay more than double."

"Opportunity for advancement and to make money commensurate with services rendered incomparably greater out of Patent Office than in."

"There is absolutely no incentive for a technically trained man (especially under present conditions) to enter the Patent Office with any intention of making that his life's work" .

"As one engaged in important development work I feel that this matter of maintaining and improving the efficiency and necessarily the personnel of the Patent Office, can not too strongly be brought to the attention of Congress."

"The conditions in that office today are deplorable and to put it mildly, it Is a disgrace to the Government that one of the vital elements in the success and progress of this nation, has been so lamentably neglected."

"Without meaning to be critical, I may state that the present position of Examiner or Assistant Examiner in the Patent Office is practically unbearable. The amount of work on hand is enormous and increasing. The force is inadequate and should be doubled. For the past two years I have worked on office work from 12 to 14 hours a day on an average without being able to keep the work of my division from falling behind. With far less work I am confident of a considerably larger income outside of the office."

"We who have to practice before the Patent Office consider it very important that the Examining Corps be increased in numbers and that they get much higher salaries."

"Outside work requires constructive ability whereas ability to intelligently criticize the work of others is the prime requisite in Patent Examiners' work."

"Greater opportunity at present for the exercise of personal initiative and greater recognition of personal achievement and greater opportunity for advancement."

"In order to retain the kind of examiners you should have in the Examining Corps, the salaries in my judgment should not be less than from $2000 to $4000 per year for Assistant Examiners and $5000 per year for Principal Examiners."

"I have found that the corporations by which I have been employed provide adequate office space and sufficient clerks—a condition not always true in the Patent Office."

"Absolutely no comparison. Due to red tape and lack of incentive in Government service, would not consider position on the examining corps if it paid $15,000 a year."

"Usually no time limit as to cases acted upon, accuracy and thoroughness being preferred to speed, a more satisfactory basis than the Patent Office mandate—'Get off more work'."

"I naturally put in much longer hours now, but the stimulus of direct personal contact with live business issues growing out of patents, as distinguished from abstract technical problems, more than offsets this, making the work more satisfactory in every way."

"Present position requires more initiative and the need for a quick judgment is more likely to arise. In general the qualifications required are the same."

"My reason for resigning was that the present salaries of examiners in the Patent Office are ridiculously low compared with outside remuneration or the salaries for other government positions of similar character."

"Work harder outside. More responsibility."

"Nature of work more responsible and Infinitely more opportunity to exert personal initiative would not return to former duties for $8000 per year."

"My primary reason for leaving the office was that the increased cost of living had so far outstripped the salary increases that I was compelled to lower the standard of living of both my family and myself from day to day. What the office obviously needs are: first, an increase of salary, and 2nd, an increase in force."

"I may say, however, that .1 earned a good deal more money in the practice of my profession the first year after leaving the Patent Office than I received at any time while there and my net income every year since has increased substantially. I do not know any walk of life in which men are so poorly paid for the same degree of learning and skill as are the Patent Office Examiners. Many of them are quite as well educated and quite as able as men in private practice who are making from $25,000 to $50.000 a year. Many of them are quite the equal in character, education and ability of the average men on the Federal Bench, who are underpaid when their salaries are compared with those paid to State judges, particularly in large cities."

"I am pleased to cooperate with you to the limit of my ability, as I believe that there is no more crying need in the technical development of this country than the increase in the pay of the examiners. My reasons for leaving the office were the very obvious ones of obtaining enough money to live on. Under the scale of pay as it existed in 1915, I felt that the compensation of the examiners was so inadequate as to make service in the examining corps permissible only in the light of a schooling, for which heavy tuition is paid in the form of the acceptance of an in adequate salary. As a consequence, it is necessarily, I believe, the endeavor of those who enter to graduate from the course as quickly as possible in order to get out into the world to make a living. This situation can have no other effect upon the Patent Office than to confine its personnel to three classes of individuals; first, inexperienced young men who feel the advantages to be obtained by attending this school; second, incompetent old men who found themselves unable to graduate from the course; and third, a very small minority of conscientious, patriotic men who. for one peculiar reason or another, either of sense of patriotic duty, of intense interest in the work, or of personal association, are willing to remain in the Office in spite of the inadequate salary. It has been a source of great wonder to me that, under the circumstances, the Office was able to maintain as high a standard of personnel as it has. I feel the more free to speak as I do by reason of the fact that I have withdrawn myself from the patent field, and as a consequence I can not be accused of having any bias based upon personal interest."

"I remained in the Patent Office three years in which length of time I considered that I had obtained about all the Office could teach me and therefore, upon receiving a good offer I left the Patent Office and have continuously advanced since that time to the present head of this firm. My opinion is, and always has been, that the Patent Office force is entirely too small in numbers and has entirely inadequate salaries. For this reason it has always been well known to me, as well as to any patent attorneys practicing in the Courts, that the searches made by the Patent Office can not be complete because the examiners cannot devote the proper amount of time to each individual case on account of the smallness of the force. For this reason there is hardly a patent comes into Court as to which new prior art is not adduced in the search made by defendant's attorneys. This is, in my opinion, due solely to the small amount of time which can be put on each case and in no way to the ability of the examining force, whose standard has always been high. I think manufacturers are realizing more and more fully the needs and requirements of the Patent Office, and its great value, which would and should be greatly increased by enlarging the force and increasing the salaries."

"On leaving the Patent Office I became associated with my father and cousin who were then engaged in patent practice, and in about a year I became a member of the firm, so that there were no such definite salary arrangements as make it possible to give comparative figures. I always received several times as much as I had been getting at the Patent Office and without looking up the matter definitely, I should say that after the first year I was receiving over $5000 a year."

"About my own case, I may say that I regretted sincerely leaving Washington and the Patent Office, due to the associations I have formed, but I realized that it would take me a very long time indeed to get the enticing salary that was offered me here. Had I been reasonably certain of getting an increase every year, say of $200, I doubt very much whether I should have left when I did. I think the only way an efficient force can be retained is to provide increases every year for the efficient ones up to a limit, irrespective of the number of vacancies in the Office."

Journal of Patent Office Society, V. II, No. 3, pp, 129-34 (1919).

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