The Business of Government Hour

 

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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Anne Chasser interview

Friday, March 22nd, 2002 - 20:00
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Anne Chasser
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Sat, 03/23/2002
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Arlington, Virginia

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Anne Chasser, commissioner for trademarks, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a bureau of the Department of Commerce.

Good morning, Anne.

Mr. Lawrence: Great. And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Watson: Good morning, Anne, thanks for joining us.

Ms. Chasser: My pleasure.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Anne, intellectual property is a complex field that's probably not well understood by many outside the community. Could you describe the PTO's mission and activities within the intellectual property community for us?

Ms. Chasser: Yes, Paul. The mission of the United States Patent and Trademark Office is to administer the nation's laws on granting patents and trademarks and to advise the Executive Branch in the intellectual property protection.

Mr. Lawrence: Why is protecting intellectual property so important?

Ms. Chasser: Intellectual property is the economic capital of the United States. Inventions lead to innovation. It's very important to protect the innovation for those that have developed the intellectual property. American brands all over the world speak to the vibrancy of the economy, plus it protects consumers as well. Copyright, the third form of intellectual property, is thriving throughout the world with the radio and movie business and music business as well.

Mr. Lawrence: How many people work at PTO, and what type of skills do they have?

Ms. Chasser: We have a very, very interesting workforce at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We have a highly trained, highly educated workforce. We have about 6,000 employees, most of which are professionals. We have scientists, Ph.D.'s, engineers in our patent side of the house. And on the trademark side of the house, we have a staff of about 800 employees, 400 of which are examining attorneys, so they have law degrees.

Mr. Watson: What are some of your responsibilities as commissioner for trademarks?

Ms. Chasser: Well, as the commissioner for trademarks, my responsibility is essentially the responsibility of any chief operating officer, which means I'm responsible for the overall strategic planning for where the trademark operation will be going, and that includes areas involving human resource, resource management, looking at future assumptions about where we will be going in terms of the amount of work coming through the door, how we'll process that work and deliver high-quality and timely products to our customers, who are the owners of trademarks.

Mr. Watson: Can we spend some time talking about your career prior to your appointment as the commissioner for trademarks? How did you arrive at your current leadership position?

Ms. Chasser: Well, it was a very interesting journey, quite unplanned and quite unexpected, to tell you the truth. I got a call out of the blue, in November of -- I believe it was 1998, asking if I might be interested in considering this position. It took me completely by surprise, and I decided that I would just follow through the doors as they opened.

My background is very unique, and I think somewhat unusual for someone in this position. I had come to the Patent and Trademark Office as a customer of the Patent and Trademark Office, in that my most recent position, and actually a position I held for most of my career, was with The Ohio State University. I was the director of trademarks and licensing for Ohio State University, and as a matter of fact, developed the program which was one of the first programs in the country at an institution for higher education to register its trademarks and develop a program to promote and market the trademarks for the university through products and services.

Mr. Lawrence: Are you a lawyer by training?

Ms. Chasser: No, I'm not. That's the other interesting aspect of this position. I think that I probably have the distinct, unique opportunity of being the first person who is not a lawyer to serve as the commissioner for trademarks.

And I think there was a little bit of concern in the early days, because as I mentioned, our responsibility in the trademark operation is the legal examination of trademark applications. Part of what my job is, is not a legal job per se, it's running a business. And having built a business at Ohio State -- and actually, it's very interesting because it was a business enterprise within the context of a public institution, which was very different because, as you know, the mission of a university is academic and learning, and to build a for-profit enterprise within the context of a nonprofit institution was a bit unusual. But the skills that I learned in building a business from the ground up, I think, have come to serve well in this role as chief operating officer for the trademark operation.

Mr. Watson: Can you tell us a little bit about the types of things you trademarked when at Ohio State.

Ms. Chasser: Well, yes. We used to joke quite often, because we would license products that would take you from birth to the grave -- I mean, from baby bottles to requests for the university logo on a casket, which of course we didn't license. We refused those kinds of things. But we literally had thousands and thousands of products at Ohio State. And the trademarks that we would use on these products of course were the institutional name, the logo, the mascot.

So I saw first-hand the value of a trademark registration, because, as you know, one of the most important aspects for an owner of a trademark, the onus of protecting the right falls on the owner of the trademark. Once you receive a registration, the responsibility falls back on the trademark owner. So that's why you're seeing companies all over the country spending millions and millions of dollars to advertise their brand, as well as to enforce their brand. It's a very important aspect of trademark protection, is the enforcement and protection of the brand or of the trademark.

Mr. Lawrence: You received the call to join PTO. What was it that drew you to public service?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I've been in, as I mentioned, the public service literally my entire career. I've had a very interesting career of well over 25 years in the public sector, having been at Ohio State for about 25 years.

And what I like best about the public sector, the work that we do is so vitally important, but I also like the spirit of camaraderie and the spirit of working together. You don't have the bottom line profit-and-loss kind of situation. I find the collegial atmosphere -- what I found coming to the PTO was that it's a very collegial senior executive group and collegial group within the PTO. On the trademark side of the house, it's very much a community and a sense of family, and we're all in this together. And I think that's a very rewarding way to work.

Mr. Lawrence: What of your jobs in the different positions you've held have best prepared you for your present position? And I know there's subject matter expertise, but I'm also thinking about the management skills that are required.

Ms. Chasser: Well, I think the skills that helped me the most coming to this job, I mentioned the aspect of building a business and communicating with a whole host of different kinds of constituency groups, senior leadership in the university. We were selling an idea that was a little revolutionary back about 25 years ago. I know now that it doesn't seem that odd, because colleges and universities, now, people recognize the value of their trademark licensing program because often it generates significant revenues that go back to the educational mission.

What I also did, I think, that was very, very helpful that has prepared me for this job is, I have been very involved in the community of trademarks and professional associations. Early in my career, I was instrumental in forming an association of collegiate licensing administrators, which is an organization today that has over 300+ universities and colleges all over the world. And we formed this as a clearinghouse for information and exchange of ideas. But what that did was, there was a group of individuals that had a shared interest in promoting college licensing. And it's very energizing, I think, to work with people that have a shared vision in the importance of what we're doing and sort of feeding off one another.

From there, I got involved with the International Trademark Association. I think the common theme throughout my career has really been the connection with people and groups and threads and things of that sort, where one thing leads to the other. In the early days of collegiate licensing, we felt it was important to affiliate with groups to give us credibility, because after all, we were just lowly college administrators, and nobody at our institutions understood what we were doing, and so we were trying to get credibility and acceptance. And we heard about this organization called the International Trademark Association, and one thing led to the other, and we built alliances, because it was useful for the International Trademark Association to recruit an interesting constituency, which were colleges and universities who valued trademarks in an emerging group.

And so one thing led to the other, and I got involved with the International Trademark Association and eventually became president of that organization, and that's what put me on the landscape for this position, no question about it, was my work in the trademark community.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Stick with us as we continue our conversation with Anne Chasser of PTO. When we come back, we'll ask her to tell us about getting applications to be processed online. Come back in a few minutes when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Anne Chasser, commissioner for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a bureau of the Department of Commerce. Joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

Mr. Watson: Anne, we know that the Trademark Office implemented the Trademark Electronic Application System, TEAS, to allow trademark applications to be processed online. What were some of the management challenges associated with implementing this technology change?

Ms. Chasser: Well, Steve, change is never easy. And, interestingly, the concept of transforming the way we do business is not a new idea. As a matter of fact, back in the early 1980s, a mandate was made by the then-commissioner Jerry Mossinghoff, who is a very well respected commissioner and member of the patent bar, who decided that the United States Patent and Trademark Office would become a paperless operation. Now, that was back in the early '80s, and that's an indication of how difficult change is.

Well, the reality is that the technology really wasn't there 20 years ago. The trademark operation, though, took this challenge very seriously and, in the early '80s, began to transform the way it was doing business with electronic searching back in the mid-1980s. And our plan to transform the way we're doing business from a 19th-century paper-based process to a 21st-century process maximizing information technology has really been part of the trademark plan of operation since 1994.

And how we began, this was working closely with our customers from the early days where literally the office had focus groups with customers all over the country, and established a pilot program back in, I believe it was, 1997 with 50 participants in the pilot. And based on the success of the early pilot, we launched the Trademark Electronic Application System back in 1998. So we've had about 4 years of experience on our electronic processing of trademark applications.

The key, I believe, to the success of the Trademark Electronic Application System is that it's an Internet-based system. And so, because it's based on the Internet, it's a continuously improving process. We get feedback from our customers, we get concerns about different aspects of the application system, and we're able to make adjustments and changes fairly quickly, so that the system that our early adapters used back in the ancient days of 1998 in this Internet society, it's a very different process. The beauty of our system is the simplicity, as it's an Internet-based process. We heard loud and clear from our customers that we needed to make it a simple process.

Now, on the trademark side of the house, we don't have many of the proprietary issues that the patent side has. So ours is quite a bit more simple than the Patent Electronic Application System.

Mr. Watson: What was the push-back when the idea was first talked about? It sounds like it's worked out great, and I'm just surprised that there was push-back when the idea was first introduced. What were the concerns?

Ms. Chasser: I think change is very difficult, internally as well as externally. And I think one of the biggest challenges is that we're asking our customers to do business differently and to change their behavior. And I think oftentimes, it's a challenge to maybe adopt new ways of doing business.

Mr. Lawrence: Were the expected benefits realized?

Ms. Chasser: Oh, I think that many of the -- I keep calling them as the early adapters, companies, oh, such as GE, as a matter of fact. We, this past June, celebrated the 100,000th trademark application received electronically through our award-winning TEAS application. And the recipient of that "award," I guess you might call it, was General Electric. As a matter of fact, in one day General Electric filed 52 trademark applications in a matter of minutes with the press of a button, and one of those 52 happened to be our 100th.

Well, in the ceremony that we had and the celebration, the trademark council for GE said that GE won't stand doing business the old way anymore; that they see the internal value from a cost-saving perspective, from an efficiency perspective of filing electronically. And, as you know, I mean, Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE has made digitization one of his primary goals, and GE is following through its electronic filing of trademark applications.

Mr. Watson: What percentage of the trademark applications are currently processed online, and how do you promote and encourage your customers to use online processing?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I was talking before about the value of selling. And an important part of my job I see is sales, quite frankly, and selling our electronic application system, because, really, my overall goal is to transform the way we're doing business and to be a leader in the federal government and eGovernment.

But having said that, how we promote it: Many different ways. We promote it through customer sessions throughout the country. As a matter of fact, next weekend, beginning a whole series of presentations all over the country where we go and we meet with large groups of our customer basis, and this time we're working through our Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries. There are 88 all over the country. So we'll be working in concert with the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries and with local practitioners and corporations that are using our electronic application system and those that are not, to sort of give a balanced approach of the pros and the cons. We promoted heavily through these kinds of interactions, publications, opportunities like this to really spread the word of how we're transforming the way we do business.

Mr. Lawrence: One of your goals is to reduce the amount of paper files at the PTO, and I can't help but think that, given all that's gone on in the past, there is an enormous demand for space to store paper files, and we've been reading that you're getting ready to move.

So I'm curious to know, what are the challenges of coordinating this move and all this paper?

Ms. Chasser: Well, you're absolutely right, Paul, that storing paper places tremendous demands on space. I mean, you should visit the Patent and Trademark Office sometime and you'll see how we are literally drowning in paper at the Patent and Trademark Office. And that's why it's so important that we move into an electronic processing, because the cost of maintaining paper, as you can imagine, is tremendous.

But the process of transforming how we do business will be all part of our move to Carlisle as well. I mean, there will be space there to house paper, but it's a big concern.

Mr. Watson: What sort of benefits and cost savings do you anticipate with the consolidated building move?

Ms. Chasser: Well, one of the biggest challenges in planning the balance of the United States Patent and Trademark Office space at the Carlisle is to really lay out the space so that it's provided for future flexibility.

For example, the Patents is planning their space so that the square footage will initially house paper but then can eventually be recaptured for office space quickly and at a minimal cost, so that as the increased use of electronic processing increases in the future, we'll be able to adapt that space.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the management challenges surrounding this move? Is it easy just to pick up and consolidate, or --

Ms. Chasser: Oh, my heavens, no. It's a huge undertaking.

Think about this. Right now we occupy over a million square feet of office space in 18 buildings in a campus that spans about a mile in Crystal City. So thinking about literally picking up and moving, plus moving all of the paper files, is an enormous, enormous challenge. And I think we've got a really great team together that is heading the move. Fortunately, that's in another area. So I just have to worry about the -- my job is to get the work through the process of the trademark operation, but we have a wonderful team that's working very diligently in trying to figure out all of the possible contingencies into the move.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's keep pushing along on technology. We know that PTO has initiated a multi-million-dollar project to supply employees with things like desktops, laptops, and hand-held computers. How will this improved technology impact the way you do business?

Ms. Chasser: Well, again, now, this is a procurement issue and, again, that's not really my area. But we are always looking for ways to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of our operation.

And just for example, on the trademark side of the house, when we are examining trademark applications, oftentimes there are design elements within it, and if you have a larger screen in order to examine the design element, it makes the job a lot easier.

Thanks to technology, we're able to literally -- I don't know if I mentioned this or not, but one of the advantages of our transformation to a fully electronic workplace is a very successful work-at-home program. And so literally, our examining attorneys could be anywhere in the United States. Right now we have one that lives in Boston, Massachusetts; one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But in the near future, I could literally see our examiners anywhere in the country if, for example, a spouse has to move for a job. It's a great way to maintain a highly trained and skilled workforce. But the capability of examining and dealing with customers electronically is all made possible thanks to the innovations in our office.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our discussion with Anne Chasser of PTO. PTO was one of the first performance-based organizations. We'll find out what impact that had on PTO when The Business of Government Hour Continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Anne Chasser, commissioner for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a bureau of the Department of Commerce. Joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PWC partner.

Mr. Watson: In 2001, the number of trademark applications was significantly less than what was projected. What steps are you taking to adjust human resources to the reduced demand for your services, and how are you managing this impact on your employees?

Ms. Chasser: It has been a real challenge. What we saw in the trademark -- I keep calling it the trademark side of the house -- was, in terms of the level of our trademark filings, we found that we reflect the economy. For example, we did a tracking, and we saw that the trend lines in trademark application filings mirrored the NASDAQ from the 1990s. So as you can imagine the NASDAQ graph and the bubble in 1999 and 2000, we experienced that bubble where we saw unprecedented growth of 27 percent compounded 2 years in a row now. Can you imagine running a business that grew with that kind of a rate?

Well, then, what we saw in 2001 as the bubble burst, we saw that happened to our trademark application as well. This past year, we experienced a 21 percent decline in trademark application filings over the previous year. Now, having said that, that was still the second highest level in the history of the office.

But in terms of how do you manage that exponential growth and then retrenchment, what we were able to do was -- thanks, actually, to the performance-based organization status that we achieved through the AIPA, which is the American Inventor Protection Act of 1999 -- we were able to certain flexibilities in terms of incentive pay for performance, and we had certain incentive programs for our examining attorneys, plus I mentioned our work-at-home program, which resulted in higher productivity, the fact that we had more seasoned examiners.

So we were literally able this past year to work through our entire backlog, which was the first time in 13 years that we achieved a first-action pendency, which is a term of art that means the first time a customer receives an office action indicating the likelihood of their application becoming a trademark, and we refer to that as pendency to the 3-month period. We were able to achieve that, and then we saw this drop in filings.

I might also mention that we were able to achieve that with a net gain of only six examiners from the beginning of the fiscal year to the end of the fiscal year, so I'm very proud of that process. But what happened was, we didn't have the backlog to work off it, so we right now have more examiners than we need when you run your economic model. But how we're dealing that, we have made a commitment to work as diligently and as hard as possible to retain our highly trained effective workforce, because we know that the patterns of filings are inconsistent and up and down, and so when the economy recovers, we want to be prepared to maintain that level of customer service that our customers are expecting now, receiving actions in a timely way.

So what we have done in the short run is that we have been able to redirect some of our highly trained examining attorneys to other areas within the trademark business that we haven't been able to pay attention to these last several years, because we've been so focused on getting the work out the door. So we're working on infrastructure activities. We have detailed our examiners to the Office of General Council, to various offices that the trademark user's fees support within the USPTO. So it appears to be working well. We're monitoring this very, very closely. We are communicating very closely with our examiners and our employees, because after all, our employees are our most valuable asset, and so it's very important that we keep the lines of communication open. But it's difficult.

Mr. Watson: You mentioned some of the flexibilities you have because PTO is a performance-based organization, or PBO. How else has being a PBO affected, say, culture or the day-to-day operations?

Ms. Chasser: Well, the Patent and Trademark Office was actually the second performance-based organization designated, the first being in the Department of Education, Student Financial Aid. So we had a great opportunity, I think, to define what a performance-based organization is. And I think what it allowed us to do is really talk about how we're doing business and look at running the business as a business from a sort of strategic perspective. And it provided certain flexibilities, as I mentioned, with regard to pay for performance through incentive programs and so forth.

We are still, though, subject to Title V under the federal legislation. We're also subject to the appropriation process.

Mr. Watson: Measuring performance has become an increasingly important part of doing business in the public sector. We know that the Patent and Trademark Office has developed a balanced score card performance measurement system. How do you measure customer satisfaction, and what results have you seen today?

Ms. Chasser: Well, Steve, I mentioned earlier that we are an organization of engineers and scientists and lots of analytical kinds of professionals that work in the Patent and Trademark Office. So measurement is something that we are outstanding at. And we're very good at measuring all kinds of processes. You mentioned the customer satisfaction. We have an annual customer satisfaction survey that goes out every single year, I believe, for 5 or 6 years. So we have historical data, and we're very specific with our customers in terms of key drivers and what leads to customer satisfaction. So we have our external customer satisfaction survey, as well as a number of internal measures that we look at to evaluate how we're doing business. So when there's a disconnect between our internal measures and our customer satisfaction numbers, we know we have to laser into that area and try to meld the perception and the reality closer together.

Mr. Watson: Congress has mandated a reduction in the application processing time to 3 months. Could you describe how employee incentive programs are aligned and how they contribute to meeting this goal?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I did mention my little bragging rights a little earlier about how the 3 months for application processing time was achieved this past year. And we're very proud of it, because it was the first time in 13 years we have met that goal.

And I did mention a little earlier some of the incentive programs that we worked on in terms of productivity awards and so forth, which were very successful.

Mr. Watson: The agency's balanced score card system also measures employee satisfaction. I think you mentioned a few internal measures you have. What results have you seen in your employee satisfaction survey, and how does a program such as your work-at-home program help the PTO to attract and retain high-quality workers?

Ms. Chasser: Well, our work-at-home program is one of the most successful programs. And we have, actually, examiners lining up to work at home because of the tremendous -- not only the ability to work at home, but it actually provides more time to get the job done, because you're not sitting there in traffic, and we are able to measure the work being done because, as I mentioned earlier, we are an operation that has a deliverable, so we're able to measure the deliverables.

And having a highly professional work force, the ability to work on your own, without supervision and all those kinds of issues, is very, very positive. And so we're very pleased with our work-at-home program.

Mr. Watson: You mentioned you had employees lining up to join the work-at-home program. Why not roll it out quicker?

Ms. Chasser: Well, there's a cost associated with the work-at-home program, because we literally replicate the desktop in their home. And so we're talking about resource needs. We're also looking for broadband lines to the home. It's a resource issue at this point in terms of setting it. We currently have, I believe it's about 28 percent of our examining corps is working at home, and we're actually developing a new program, a pilot program, a hotelling concept. And I actually believe your company has a successful piloting program that we'd love to visit some time. But the hotelling program for your audience, it's literally -- think of it as five people sharing one office. And so what that is going to enable us to do is to eliminate valuable office space and turn it back for other uses, either within the PTO or through GAO.

Mr. Lawrence: Have you had any untended consequences or any disappointments with the work-at-home program? Often people like to work in teams together and meet at the coffee pot and discuss stuff, and that just can't be done. Have there been discoveries like that?

Ms. Chasser: Yes. I don't think that work-at-home is for everyone. I personally think that I probably wouldn't be able to work at home, because I'd find other things to do besides my work if I was at home. I don't think work-at-home is for everyone, because some people thrive in a more collegial environment and talking around the coffee pot and so forth.

What we have found is a community springing up among our examining attorneys through listservs or coming to the office one day a week and meeting colleagues and friends. One of the requirements of our work-at-home program right now is that you need to come to the office 4 hours a week to take care of administrative functions and training sessions and group meetings and so forth. So we try to provide some opportunities for interaction. And one or two of our examining attorneys who have worked at home have decided that it's not for them, that they prefer being in the office. So I think what we're trying to do is develop a menu of opportunities and choices of how to get the work done.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Come back as we continue our discussion with Anne Chasser of PTO. How does one recruit, manage, and motivate such a highly skilled work force? We'll ask her when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Anne Chasser, commissioner for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a bureau of the Department of Commerce. And joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PWC partner.

Well, Anne, your position as commissioner of trademarks used to be a political appointment. However, you were hired on contract. Could you tell us the impact of your ability to manage and the way you approach this position?

Ms. Chasser: Yes, that's right. As a matter of fact, with the implementation of the American Inventor Protection Act, my position as commissioner of trademarks changed from a presidential Senate-confirmed position to a 5-year term position where I actually have an employment contract with the Secretary of Commerce.

How are things different? Not much different at all, because when I came in as a presidential appointee, I came in with a very clear idea of my job was to get the job done, and as a 5-year term employee, I still have that same perspective. It's to get the job done.

Mr. Watson: How will TEAS and other eGovernment programs change the way citizens interact with PTO?

Ms. Chasser: Doing business electronically is very different than doing business in a paper-based process. And I invite all of our listeners to visit us at our website, which is www.uspto.gov. And our website is really the portal to our customers' interaction with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. For example, our customers can check the status of their pending trademark application. They can search through the website and -- I'm not going to give the acronyms, because it's too confusing -- can search for marks that are used in commerce through our website. Every week the trademark operation -- and the patent operation as well -- publishes an Official Gazette, and the Trademark Official Gazette is a publication that lists all marks that are subject to registration as a trademark, and it provides an opportunity or public notice for those that believe that the mark may be confusingly similar with the trademark owned by an individual; they can challenge that potential registration. That's called the Official Gazette. You can check that every Tuesday on the web in PDF format, which is searchable, text searchable. You can find your trademark registration certificate through the web and print it off of the web. You can get information on how to file a trademark application.

It's a whole host of information, a clearinghouse of information through our website, and we believe that working through the website really will enhance your experience of working with the Patent and Trademark Office. And we're very pleased, again, with the USPTO website. It's an award-winning website, recognized by Yahoo! magazine as one of the best government websites available.

Mr. Watson: Throughout our conversation this morning, you've described a highly skilled and highly educated workforce. What are the challenges of managing these types of employees?

Ms. Chasser: Well, it's actually a joy to work such a smart, energetic group of professionals. As I mentioned, we have about 400 examining attorneys, attorneys that work in the trademark side of the house. We have paralegals. Our technical support staff is highly trained. It's really a joy, because you have individuals that see the importance of the work that we're doing at the Patent and Trademark Office and do what it takes to get the job done.

Mr. Watson: We hear a lot about the coming government retirement wave and the expected impact on Federal agencies. What kind of challenges will this present to PTO?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I think like all Government agencies, there's, what, 56 percent of the senior management will be gone within 5 years. So I think it's very important for leaders of any organization to be identifying and working with future leaders of the organization, because that is the future.

And so we try -- I personally try -- to identify those that have the spark and the passion, and you can just sense when someone is going to go places, and to sort of work and mentor. And provide opportunities, provide opportunities to succeed as well as to fail, because I think you learn a lot through the failure as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you have formal leadership development programs?

Ms. Chasser: Well, actually, we instituted a program just 2 years ago where we're working very closely with the Council on Excellence in Government where we've identified five Fellows in the trademark operation last year and this year. And I see them sort of as the sparks of energy throughout the organization. We've selected individuals from not only the examining corps, but from management and from technical support as well. And so I sort of see them as sparks throughout the agency, and we're going to start building circles and circles, and pretty soon we'll all be speaking the same language of where it is we're going in transforming the way we do business.

Mr. Lawrence: Why are they sparks? What are the characteristics that leads them?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I think oftentimes, when you step away from your workaday world, and you're involved with other organizations and other groups, and you learn what's happening in other areas in the Federal Government, and you take time to study leadership and what it takes to be a leader, and you step back and learn about yourself, often these programs involve self-evaluation -- for example, Myers-Briggs -- in how you put together teams and how it's important to have individuals with differing points of view, and differing perspectives only makes a stronger team.

All those kinds of skills, I think, eventually, as people are recognizing this and building, and we're speaking the same language, I think it's going to have a huge effect. At least I'm banking on that right now. We'll see what happens.

Mr. Watson: Earlier in the hour, you were describing your career, and you mentioned you were a customer of PTO's for many years. Now you're its commissioner. How have your perceptions of the organization and mission changed, going from customer to commissioner?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I think it actually helps me when we're making decisions, because I think that actually gives me some credibility within the trademark organization, because I can speak as a customer and how the customer would view it. So I see it as a real advantage.

Mr. Lawrence: Throughout our conversation this morning, you've described the tremendous technological and organizational changes that have taken place at PTO. What's your vision for the next 10 years? How might it change?

Ms. Chasser: Well, I think our workplace will be very different. I mean, when you look at how much it has changed in the last 10 years, 10 years ago examiners -- I wasn't there then, but people talk about standing around the bullpen, which was the one sort of search engine, to try to get -- I mean, and now we literally have examiners working all over the country. Eventually we'll probably have examiners that might be working on their boat in Key West. And so I think the whole issue of bricks and mortar will be very different in the future for us as we move into an electronic-based process.

Mr. Lawrence: How are those changes that we might imagine going to affect the people who manage or lead the organization? Normally we talk about increasing skills. We talk about the skills that the staff have, and we build those and train them. But it seems like the way organizations like what you're describing, would be managed and even led might be different too. What are your thoughts on that?

Ms. Chasser: Oh, I think so too. I have to keep going back to my sports day at a Big Ten university, and it really is all about coaching and teamwork. And I think it will be very different, because decisions will be made very differently. I mean, much less hierarchical and more on front-line decision making, which I think will happen.

Mr. Lawrence: And will the leaders of the future and the managers of the future learn those skills by being in those teams, or how will they --

Ms. Chasser: I think by providing as many and as varied opportunities as you can. And we often talk about getting people outside their comfort zone and putting them in positions where they don't feel comfortable, which is hard; you're asking people to do things that they don't feel comfortable doing. But I think that's where you learn the most, to sort of be in an uncomfortable position or a situation, because you find skills that you didn't think you had.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting. Well, Anne, I'm afraid we're out of time. Steve and I want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Ms. Chasser: Thank you. It's been my pleasure. I've really enjoyed this time together.

Mr. Lawrence: Did you want to mention the website one more time?

Ms. Chasser: Oh, yes, thank you for that opportunity: www.uspto.gov. Come see us there.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring our conversation with Anne Chasser, commissioner for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a bureau of the Department of Commerce.

Be sure and visit us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. There you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving Government effectiveness, and you can also get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's endowment.pwcglobal.com. This is Paul Lawrence. See you next week.

Anne Chasser interview
03/23/2002
Anne Chasser

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