Teleworking PTO employees process more patents, less expensive

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Patent and Trademark Office employees participating in the agency's largest telework arrangement, called the Patent Hoteling Program, process more patent applications per year than their in-office counterparts, according to the Commerce Department office of inspector general.

Participants work from home at least 4 days a week and reserve office space when they need be present at PTO. While PHP participants don't process applications at a greater rate, they review patents for more hours than those not participating in PHP, finds a Feb. 1 OIG report (.pdf). They also use less sick and administrative leave, and charge less time to administrative tasks, finds the report.

The average PHP participant spends 66.3 more hours, per year examining patents than a PHP-eligible examiner working at PTO headquarters, meaning they review about 3.5, or 4 percent, more applications, write report authors.

Not only are PHP participants generating more revenue through the fees associated with patent processing, they're less expensive for PTO. Real estate, taxes, utilities and transit benefit costs are where most of the PHP savings are found. In these areas PHP employees cost PTO only $1,350 in year one, versus $10,935 for in-office employees.

The IT costs incurred at the outset are higher for PHP participants, however. It costs $5,500 to get a PHP employee setup and provide virtual infrastructure access in the first year, while there are no similar costs for in-office employees. Hoteling employees are allowed to deduct up to $100 in ISP service costs a month, but because only 17 percent seek reimbursement, PTO only incurs $70 more per year, per PHP employee than in-office ISP expenses per employee.

With all IT and real-estate related expenses combined, PHP employees cost PTO $1,710 less than employees working at PTO headquarters in the first year, and $3,385 less each subsequent year, according to the report.

"Whereas USPTO reported that it avoids $15.88 million annually in real estate costs by having PHP, we estimated that this amount is approximately $16.84 million," write report authors.

For the most part, PTO has adequate controls for managing the program, although 2 percent of PHP participants in the OIG sample lacked documentation to support eligibility in the program.

For more:
- download report, OIG-12-018-A (.pdf)

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