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The United States Patent and Trademark Office wants to modernize its technology stack, but to accomplish its ambitious goal, Jamie Holcombe, the CIO for USPTO has two main objectives: snapping out of a spell that binds people to age-old projects, and scaling its current way of doing things.

“What I saw was the ability to actually outsource a lot of our infrastructure, and that means not actually having the data center that we currently do in Alexandria, although it’s very efficient. What we need to do is have resiliency. And so what I’d like to do is create the ability for our applications to work in the cloud on the internet, instead of having to come to the USPTO data center. And so that’s what we’re doing right now. We’ve stabilized our core applications to the point where in COVID-19 we’ve been able actually to increase our productivity metrics. It’s unbelievable how great we’re doing in this limited environment.”

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Jamie details how his office is bringing its technology stack into the 21st century and how they are expediting the time it takes for a patent to get approved through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.

Main Takeaways

  • You Better Check Yourself: The discovery process is integral when you are looking to deploy any kind of artificial intelligence or machine learning techniques. Before deploying these algorithms, you need to make sure that you are creating the necessary feedback loops and understand what the data is telling you and where your deficiencies are in your algorithms.
  • Clean-Up Your Room: Before you embark on any digital transformation that affects your customer, you have to make sure that your house is in order first. This can mean updating your network’s infrastructure and finding new ways to manage your data.
  • Same Old Song and Dance: Just because your department or office has been around for hundreds of years, does not mean your processes are perfect. When you have employees that stick around, that’s great! But make sure you are continuously challenging your team to think about new ways and processes to streamline your approach.

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For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.


The United States Patent and Trademark Office wants to modernize its technology stack, but to accomplish its ambitious goal, Jamie Holcombe, the CIO for USPTO has two main objectives: snapping out of a spell that binds people to an age-old projects, and scaling its current way of doing things.

“The biggest problem with the federal government is everybody is trying to save all these failed projects,” Holcombe said. “The thing about is they don’t know how to cut bait. They’d rather keep fishing to make sure that they overcome whatever the problem is that they had. The answer is you don’t need to throw good money after bad [projects]. Stop doing what you’re doing within a 90 day period and start something else. That’s a more successful build on success. And if you fail, then only fail a little, don’t fail a lot.”

 

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Jamie details how his office is bringing its technology stack into the 21st century and how they are expediting the time it takes for a patent to get approved through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.

While government agencies can often be stigmatized as archaic when it comes to their processes, Holcombe said his agency is anything but the government norm, mentioning he wants his office to be just as innovative as the applications that they are approving. 

“We should be known as the innovation agency,” he said. “Because of that tagline, I’m really using that to transform the whole culture from one of huge competence [to transformative].”

According to Holcombe, the average lifespan of a USPTO employee ranges from 30-35 years, and while he loves that his employees are experienced in their respective fields, when the employee journey is that long, it can be hard to suddenly change course and begin doing things a new way. That’s especially true when you consider that the history of your office dates back to President George Washington.  

“We’re taking this workforce of 13,000 individuals, who have highly-competent backgrounds and experience knowing exactly what they’re doing, and I’m trying to tell them, ‘Wait a second.

We need to do things differently,’” Holcombe said. “And they’re like, ‘We’ve been doing this since the inception of our country.’” 

But as a fee-funded organization, and not a taxpayer-funded office, Holcombe said he and his employees have an obligation to the filer to make sure that every penny they earn goes back into the office so that the filers are earning the best bang for their buck.

One of the ways the administration is funneling those fees back into the office is by upgrading its technology to provide for quicker turnaround time when someone files for a patent — a process called pendency that can take months. 

“What I’d like to do is every three years cut that pendency in half,” Holcombe said. “Now that’s a hell of a goal and I’ve been told that I’m crazy to even say it out loud, but the reason that you have to have those big goals is you’ve got to separate the wheat from the chaff. You have to get rid of all the noise that’s around [you saying], ‘Well, we can’t do that because of this.’”

One of the challenges that the USPTO is tasked with when new applications for patents are filed, is trying to decipher whether those applications for new patents can be awarded. Holcombe believes this process can be expedited through new types of technology.

“We’ve got to tell them whether or not it can be awarded as unique and novel, or if somebody has already done it on the other side of the world,” Holcombe said. “So I really do think that the examiners take that mission to heart. The quicker that we can get those awarding or rejections [out], the better it is for the entire economy because we don’t want all that private equity and the other funding held up because some bureaucrat is trying to make a decision about whether it’s unique and novel or not. We need to get to those decisions faster.”

To accelerate that process, Holcombe and his team have been working to establish artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that could eliminate some of the tedious cross-checking that examiners must do to determine if an application is indeed unique. While they are still in the discovery and development of these tools, the possibilities excite him.

“One of the things that we’re doing is using artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning, to create algorithms and neural network feedback loops, which require a man in the loop to verify and validate whatever the algorithms produce an output,” he said. “That ability actually accelerates the examiner’s ability to bring things within certain data sets and then do a comparison between data sets instead of individual piece points. What we actually have created, along with our partners in algorithmic searching, is the fact that it can come through and result in a relative ranking, as well as a thumbs up or thumbs down as whether it helped the examiner or not.”

While Holcombe is excited about the advancements that are on the horizon, he has already begun the process of modernizing his office in other ways, including working to upgrade its stack to operate more efficiently in the cloud.

“You’ve got to clean up your house before you can show it off to everybody and have a party,” Holcombe said. “What I saw was the ability to outsource a lot of our infrastructure. That means not actually having the data center that we currently do in Alexandria. What we need to do is have resiliency. And so what I’d like to do is create the ability for our applications to work in the cloud on the internet instead of having to come to the USPTO’s data center. What we’re doing right now is We’ve stabilized our core applications to the point where in COVID-19 we’ve been able actually to increase our productivity metrics.” 

While patent filing is up despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Holcombe says to manage these current workflows, his office needs to create a more efficient and cost-effective infrastructure network, which means going to cloud and using both a private-public cloud system so if there is a disturbance with one of the networks, the other can pick up the slack.

But with any digital transformation comes the daunting task of actually asking for the money that provides organizations with the ability to upgrade their stack. Holcombe had some parting advice for anyone looking to upgrade their stack that might be facing budgetary restrictions. 

“The answer is that you can bring down your cost savings and use those savings to actually invest in your transformation,” he said. “So whatever you’re going to save, you turn around and use that money to invest for further savings in the future. That produces the right incentive and it’s a commercial incentive because if you save money now, in the future you can use that same money that you had to invest in better products, and that saves more money. And so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

To hear more about how Holcombe and the USPTO office is undergoing their digital transformation, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries.

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

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