Patent examiners have agreed to trade in their paper files for electronic ones in exchange for a pay raise from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Patent Office Professional Association, an independent group representing examiners and other Patent Office professionals, and the Patent Office agreed to a new special pay schedule which includes an across-the-board 10 percent salary increase for patent examiners and a 15 percent raise for employees at the GS-9 to 11 levels. The agreement affects about 3,500 employees. The terms of the agreement are not much different from management's initial offer, which patent examiners rejected overwhelmingly in September due to concerns about heavier workloads and locality pay adjustments. Nicholas P. Godici, the commissioner for patents, attributed the change of heart to dedicated negotiation. "The difference this time was that we sat down and spent a lot of time with the union at the highest levels and worked out many of the details that were not clear in the first go-around. We spent time with them and made them [union leadership] comfortable with the entire proposal and package," said Godici. As part of the deal, paper files will be phased out by 75 percent over the next 3 years and all employees will start viewing patent documents electronically. Godici said some employees are already using the Patent Office's computer system to view files and conduct research, adding that storing files electronically will save the agency money. The agency plans to provide computer training for employees. The pay increase is in addition to the 3.7 percent pay raise for federal employees that took effect Jan. 1. Washington-area workers received 3.81 percent increases, due to locality pay adjustments. The average patent examiner makes $53,156 under the 2001 pay schedule, and will make $58,472 under the agreement. The agreement does not address the union's concerns about heavy workloads and time pressures on employees. The union has said in the past that it thinks employees are already under an enormous amount of pressure to work long hours, and that management asks them to take on more work and complete it in less time. Godici said that although the workload issue was not addressed in the agreement, the Patent Office plans to study it in the future. Godici was pleased with the agreement and said the pay increase was justifiable and necessary, but also addressed the issue of pay discrepancy between the public and private sectors. "There are a lot of stories about differences in pay [between the public and private sectors] and the difference is substantial, but we are also not comparing apples and apples. People on the outside are generally patent attorneys who have law and patent degrees. All of our examiners are not attorneys, and wouldn't be that marketable in the private sector," said Godici.
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