The Business of Government Hour


About the show

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.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Q. Todd Dickinson interview

Monday, November 29th, 1999 - 20:00
Todd Dickinson
Radio show date: 
Tue, 04/25/2000
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Mr. Lawrence:Welcome to the Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. The Endowment was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the Endowment, visit us on the web at The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business.

Our guest tonight is Todd Dickinson, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Acting Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. Welcome.

Mr. Dickinson: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's begin the first segment by talking about your career. Can you tell us a little about your career prior to joining the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, I joined the PTO about two years ago, after spending about 20 years in my career as a patent practitioner and management participant at several corporations and law firms.

Mr. Lawrence: What do you think prepared you for PTO?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, my whole career has been actually spent prcticing before the PTO so I knew a fair amount about it as a practitioner and also had some interest and involvement in some of the policy issues and challenges issues we face.

Mr. Lawrence: What do you think prepared you to be a leader, though, of a large organization beside the subject matter expertise?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, I think first of all subject matter expertise, but secondly, I had a fair amount of management experience in my corporate practice. I was in-house for much of my career and had the opportunity to engage as a manager in several of those positions.

Now, the scale is a little bit different. The PTO has about 7,000 employees, and I didn't manage that many, but many of the lessons, I think, are very similar.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay. Well, I understand you had an interesting experience that you once represented rock and roll groups in trademark cases. Can you tell us a little bit about those experiences?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, actually that was when I was first starting out in my career. There is actually a problem in the industry where rock groups very often break up and the members go their separate ways or the group itself goes forward but with new members or only some of the original members.

Often there is a problem where some of those individuals who leave represent themselves as being the original group. That's obviously a big trademark problem.

So, we represented the Platters and the Coasters, as I recall who had some significant problems. It was a lot of fun.

Mr. Lawrence: We are beginning to date ourselves now, if we remember that music. You just mentioned some of your positions in the private sector. I know that you held the position of Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property and Technology at Sun Corporation and in addition you also worked at Chevron Corporation and Baxter Travenol. How was your transition from the private sector to the public sector?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, it was an interesting one. As I say, I came into the office about two years ago, having been nominated to be the Deputy Commissioner and was a senior advisor to the Secretary for a period of time while my nomination was pending. It was basically sort of learning by immersion. What I did when I first came in was basically go throughout the organization and learn as much as I could about the organization from the ground up. I met with the senior managers. I met with large groups of examiners, which is sort of the basic level of employee that we have on the professional side in the office. I met with the clerical workers. I just learned as much as I could about it.

Mr. Lawrence: How did they react to that data gathering?

Mr. Dickinson: At first they were a little bit suspicious. They weren't quite sure why I was doing it, and they wondered if there was some agenda. I think after we talked for a long time, they realized that I was genuinely interested in the work that they did and learning more about it in the hopes that it would prepare me to do a good job as Deputy and now as Commissioner so they were very forthcoming.

Mr. Lawrence: Why were you interested in government?

Mr. Dickinson: Public service is something that has been interesting to me for a long time. I am also engaged in political activity from time to time and there is the nexus there. The opportunity to serve and serve this President were ones which were too tempting to pass up.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us a little bit about some of the lessons you learned in the private sector that could be applied to the public sector, and the reverse.

Mr. Dickinson: I worked for oil companies when I was in the private sector. They are large bureaucracies, very similar, I think, in many ways to some government bureaucracies. Some of the things, I think, you could take away from corporate management, and in particular, change management. Lots of corporations because of their competitive environment find themselves having to deal with dramatic change management issues in recent times.

We don't have competition in the government, and that actually, I think, is not a good thing in terms of how it affects management. This is one area where that is the case.

We have to often consider the opportunities for change that our changing environment brings us that are different a little bit from competition. But how to manage that change, I think is one.

I think financial management is another area. We at PTO basically operate like a business. We have a product we turn out. We produce patents and trademark registrations so 98 percent of our work is just that. A lot of the financial management issues that relate to doing that need to be brought up to a more modern management standard. We are working hard on that. Cost accounting is a good example.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the reverse? What do you think the private sector can learn from the public sector?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, that is a very interesting question. This is something that is often thought to be forced on the public sector, but I think transparency is an issue and that public accountability are issues that I think more directly affect the public sector than the private.

I am a strong advocate of transparency. I think that more communication is almost always better than less and having done that, I think we find ourselves in stronger positions.

Mr. Lawrence: How about some of the dealing with people, for example, contrast your dealings with say staff and employees in both sectors?

Mr. Dickinson: That is an interesting question. I think there is a common perception, maybe even a presumption in the public's mind that public workers are less engaged in their jobs, less committed, less enthusiastic in many ways. I have found that not to be the case. In some cases I found it actually to be reversed. We have some of the most committed and really passionate employees I have ever seen, particularly in our examining corps.

That actually leads to issues and some, you know, conflict from time to time. But there is, I think, a real strong commitment at least with the workers I work with to doing their job well.

Mr. Lawrence: Does that affect how you manage them differently than, say, the private sector?

Mr. Dickinson: I don't think so necessarily. I just think it was something I hadn't expected and found. I don't think there is that much difference.

I think a bigger problem is that the rules that affect management are stricter because they are governed by statute or by regulation and cover much more territory. They are more difficult to work with, particularly as they apply to things like personnel management, but we are hopeful that we will get some changes along those lines for our agency, and I know some others pretty soon.

Mr. Lawrence: Broadly defining "customers," then, how would you contrast the difference in both sectors about dealing with the customers?

Mr. Dickinson: The biggest difference, I think, is that customers in the public sector's mind, the concept is not as readily apparent to them. Obviously, the private sector customer is something that they are very familiar with. The need to meet the customer's requirements is one, particularly through quality management, that they become very adept at. In the public sector, the concept of the person who comes to you as a customer is one that represented a cultural change.

In our organization it was a very difficult cultural change in going from, say, a patent examiner who felt they were a judge-like individual who was supposed to render a particular verdict to someone whose goal was to help a customer get their product out the door in a timely manner and a quality fashion.

That change has happened, but it wasn't without some challenges.

Mr. Lawrence: How about dealing with, say, stakeholders versus shareholders?

Mr. Dickinson: We don't have shareholders per se. Our stakeholders tend to be considered our shareholders as well, the owners of our business, if you will. We tend to respond in that sense.

But we do our best. I think we do a very good job at particularly focusing on our stakeholders' interests.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you do that?

Mr. Dickinson: We have a variety of customer feedback mechanisms that really run the gamut. We regularly do customer surveys, for example, of a broad slice of our customer base. We have regular meetings with our customers face to face that we initiate. They come into our office. We have core meetings. For example, a technology group that does biotechnology inventions where we open the doors, and anybody can come in that wants to.

We do a lot of outreach. I spend a lot of time on the road and other managers do as well, going to the customer organizations, answering their questions, and getting their feedback.

We have even gone into cyberspace. I participate on a monthly basis in something called, "Ask the Commissioner." It's an on-line, interactive chat with the Commissioner. Anybody who wants to can e-mail a question, and we broadcast and e-mail back.

Mr. Lawrence: That's great. It's now time for a break. We will be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and tonight's conversation is with Todd Dickinson, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Acting Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. In this section, let's talk a little bit about PTO. Mr. Dickinson, can you tell us about the office?

Mr. Dickinson: In our office we have about 7,000 employees. Our principal task is the examination of patent applications and trademark registration applications for the issuance of patents and trademark registrations.

We get about a quarter million of each every year now, and it's a very substantial job because the examination process is kind of a quasi-judicial professional judgment, kind of process. It is not simply a registration process.

So, it takes time. It requires a very well-educated caliber employee. We have 450 Ph.D. scientists who work for us. We 450 lawyers, too. It's a very sophisticated and challenging place to work.

It has been around since the first Congress. It is in the Constitution, as a matter of fact, the patent system is. It was one of the first acts the first Congress passed. Our current organization dates from about 1836, so it has been around a long time.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about your role and position.

Mr. Dickinson: Well, I am the Acting Commissioner at the moment. My nomination as Commissioner is pending. Hopefully, we will get a vote on that pretty soon.

My basic role is leader of the organization. I think the principal tasks I have are management and setting a management direction and focus and a strategic vision for the organization and communication; communicating both internally and with our external customers. I spend a large amount of time on that. We also have a policy role. I am an Assistant Secretary of Commerce as well so we are responsible for establishing and having the principal responsibility for establishing intellectual property policy. That is patents and trademarks and copyrights all in for the Administration.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the challenges facing PTO?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, the biggest one at the moment is growth. We have experienced a huge increase in the number of applications for both patents and trademarks that we have had since the start of the Clinton administration. We have grown almost 60 percent. You contrast that with some decades in this century when we stayed static or even shrank a little bit. That is a staggering increase to try to manage, particularly for a process like ours.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, how do you manage that increased workload?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, the first thing is a fairly traditional thing to do, we hire more employees. Basically, we started this hiring program of about 2,000 examiners and we will finish it four years later by basically doubling the number of patent examiners. That will require us to hire with attrition, something like 750 a year. Finding high tech workers in this current economy is no easy task.

Mr. Lawrence: I was going to ask, where do they come from?

Mr. Dickinson: They come from all over, interestingly enough. We get a lot right out of engineering school or graduate school in sciences. We get some returning for a second career. Some folks I have seen are 50, some even 60 years old. You can apply for a job on our web site and we have a lot that come in that way.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, don't let that go. You have to say the address.

Mr. Dickinson: It's You can apply for a trademark registration on-line. You can read the latest news from our office on-line or you can apply for a job. Don't be shy. We need examiners.

Mr. Lawrence: I know over the last two years we have heard a lot about PTO becoming a performance-based organization or PBO, as it is known around town. From your perspective, what are the advantages of becoming a PBO?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, I think the principal advantage is flexibility and the goal is to have us since we are a business-like government entity to operate more like a business, flexibility in hiring, for example, and in human resources issues generally, flexibility in compensation, flexibility in procurement.

There are a lot of rules in the government that are applied across the government to agencies whose principal function of which is either policy or regulatory. We are not really, at least in our operations piece, one of those. This would give us the kind of flexibilities to operate more like a private sector business.

Mr. Lawrence: In terms of the flexibilities, what about flexibilities in terms of management then?

Mr. Dickinson: It would give us significant flexibility in terms of management. We have a structure now, which has evolved in certain ways, and I won't say ossified exactly, but it is fairly fixed and difficult to change.

This would give us the opportunity to make changes on a more regular basis. It would free us up from things like FTE caps on hiring to get people in the right jobs and the right positions as it developed.

The key there is appropriate oversight, of course. We have a lot of oversight. We have Congressional committee oversight and OMB and Department of Commerce oversight, as a check.

Mr. Lawrence: What is the status of the legislation? Are you still hopeful it will be enacted?

Mr. Dickinson: The legislation that would make us a PBO passed the House as part of a big patent bill. In the House, it is H.R. 1907. It is before the Senate now. The Senate Judiciary Committee will probably take it up. It will have by the time of this is broadcast, maybe been taken up.

The current Senate version unfortunately deletes our PBO legislation or section. That is the only section that is deleted from it. I think that is a strong concern of the administration. We are firmly committed to the PBO. The Mint and other organizations have been successful examples of new PBO's and this, I think, would be another good example to allow us to really operate like a business.

Mr. Lawrence: You just mentioned the difficulty finding government employees. How about retaining and attracting lawyers and other professionals at PTO?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, as I say, the vast majority of our employees are high tech workers in the broadest sense of the word. Attracting and retaining them is very difficult.

Our attrition rate is higher than we would like to be honest. What we need to do is work on compensation issues. We need to make sure we provide an attractive workplace. We are in the process, for example, of consolidating our space, and we would build new buildings for our space.

In that new space it is planned to have a large daycare center and a large fitness facility, things that are, frankly in this day and age necessary to attract and maintain the kind of caliber worker we need.

Mr. Lawrence: What else is attracting them? I know pay is a difficult issue. We have heard that many of these are very specialized employees who can go elsewhere at much more money, but yet they still seem to be coming. What are the reasons they are coming to PTO?

Mr. Dickinson: They come for a variety of reasons, and they leave for a variety of reasons. I think that the principal reason they come is because they see a government job as a secure one and to many it is a good foundation.

The pay, while lagging behind private industry standards in many cases, is still good. The benefits are very good as well. I think the benefit package is helpful in that.

As far as retention goes, compensation is an issue for retention, certainly. We have also found that the nature of the work is one which people weren't necessarily prepared for and want to move on others. They have used this as kind of a weigh station. I guess I am a little disappointed that they would do that.

We find if we are able to hold them for six years or so as a patent examiner, for example, and they get vested in the pension plan and other benefits, we retain them longer term.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the special challenges of managing these types of employees?

Mr. Dickinson: They are significant. They are a very sophisticated work force. They are not shy about expressing their opinions. They are a unionized workforce, which makes for a lot of interesting challenges, working with a government union.

We have established a good working relationship with the union and I am pleased that that is evolving even better. An interesting issue is that they have enhanced abilities to communicate that they didn't have before. We have websites and we have e-mail. I hear from them regularly. I am pleased to do that.

It is interesting because we are traditionally working an issue up a ladder. Now many people just go directly to me or to the other senior managers and that has its own interesting challenges.

Mr. Lawrence: That is great. We'll be back with more of the Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Tonight's conversation is with Todd Dickinson, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Acting Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks.

In this section, let's talk about reinvention of PTO. I know that PTO has been very active in the reinvention front. Can you describe some of the things that have taken place?

Mr. Dickinson: We are what is called a "high impact agency" in the federal government, meaning we have a lot of customer contact. There are about 54 of us, I think, that are designated as such. We are also hopeful of becoming a performance-based organization as we mentioned a minute ago.

This leads to a very natural need to continue to reinvent ourselves. I should also say that since most of the work we do on the patent side is, all that we do is directed to inventors. It is very interesting that we are reinventing ourselves as an organization that has constantly dealt with inventors.

We are doing a number of things. One that particularly I think I brought in from my previous experience in management was the broader question of quality management. We have had traditionally at the PTO quality initiatives of various sorts that were fairly scattered and scatter-shot in some ways. So, one of the first things I did was convene a so-called "quality summit" to make recommendations. They came back to me with a number of them, the key one of which was to consolidate our quality management into one function and have that function report directly to the commissioner's office, which we have done. We have established an administrator for quality management. A person named Mary Lee, one of our senior managers, has taken that job on. That allows us, I think, to get a better handle on a broad range of the kind of issues in reinvention that I think are very important to us as an agency.

Mr. Lawrence: I know you have been focused on improving customer service. Can you tell us a little bit about which kinds of customers and the sort of different services they are getting?

Mr. Dickinson: We have a pretty broad customer base. From the individual inventor who is tinkering in their backyard or garage to the most sophisticated and largest international corporations. About half of our customer base is actually foreign based, foreign corporations that file patent applications and trademark registration applications. So, this gives us a need to meet a lot of different customer requirements and customer demands.

One of the ways we get our feedback most directly is through customer surveys, customer satisfaction surveys in particular. We just had our most recent 1999 results reported back. I am very pleased that they show a significant increase this year in overall customer satisfaction and satisfaction in a number of key indicators such as the quality of the searching we do in patents, for example, that we are very pleased to see moving in that particular direction.

Mr. Lawrence: Yes, I mean it must be a very difficult customer to serve. I mean the applications and the issues themselves seem very complicated. What types of service are they asking for?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, they are asking for service in sort of two broad categories. One is the substantive work we do which is namely examining their patent for patent ability and issuing that as a substantive matter.

The other is our basic customer service thing. Do we answer the telephone and route their call correctly? Do we get their facts in the file?

We move a huge amount of paper and when you move that much paper, a lot of it can get lost unfortunately or be missing. Finding that information is one of the big things the customers are demanding and one of the big challenges to meet, frankly.

Problem resolution is probably the number one concern that is not being met at the moment and we are working on it. If we do things right, people like what we do and the service we provide. That is clear. When they go wrong, they can go really wrong and there is a black hole phenomenon sometimes that we have to work on that we keep the customer informed of where their problem is and how to get at it.

Mr. Lawrence: How is it, having once been a customer on the outside, to see it from the inside now?

Mr. Dickinson: It gives you a lot more respect for some of the things I thought should have been handled very easily. On the other hand, I think my being a practitioner before the office has great value in coming into the office. I assumed that the folks that worked there from top to bottom knew a lot of the issues that we faced outside or at least our position on it. I think I just brought a perspective on some of the issues that may not have been fully realized before.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, tell us about some of the other activities, the other reinvention activities that are taking place at PTO.

Mr. Dickinson: Well, we are moving to use a number of standards that I think will be familiar in private industry that are new in some ways to government. For example, performance measures. We are using a fairly rigorous balanced scorecard approach to performance measures that hadn't really been used before. Getting that up and running has been something of a challenge because getting over the hurdle that sometimes managers have of exposing themselves and their data, particularly with their peers, there are obviously some issues to deal with in getting that out.

We are doing that and I think we have moved aggressively.

We have also just concluded a very rigorous self-assessment. We used the Baldridge criteria. There is a set of self-assessment criteria for government entities and we used that. We had a very broad range of employees in the organization work with us on the Baldridge self-assessment, and it showed some very interesting results in terms of some of the challenges we faced and also some of the good parts of our work as well.

Some specific things with regard to customers, a big chunk of our customer base are independent inventors, one or two time users of our system. They have particular needs that weren't being met as well as they could have been before. So I established the so-called Independent Inventor Initiative creating a new office again of Independent Inventor Programming, which deals with a lot of very specific issues to them; communication, education, and mechanisms for interacting with our office more directly that I think have been very helpful. Prevention of invention promotion fraud is another big issue.

There are invention promotion firms out there who would rip off inventors. That has been very successful. There have been several approaches that we have taken.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about managing this change. How is it done? We have found that most people don't like change. So, when we introduce performance measurement, for example, people are very reluctant. How have you gone about implementing that?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, I have been surprised. They have not been as reluctant as you might think in some ways. Many of our managers have either had academic training such as business training and others have had other business experience. That has prepared them, I think, for understanding the need to manage this change as well. They also, frankly, were faced by this sort of tsunami wave of work and they have needed to change. The pressure has been there and it has been dramatic to genuinely reinvent how they do the work or else they fall hopelessly behind. They certainly don't want to do that.

Mr. Lawrence: How about in terms of special things like communication and getting people to buy into the change?

Mr. Dickinson: We have, as I mentioned a while ago, I believe we are in over-communication rather than under-communication almost always. We have established a variety of mechanisms for doing that internally. We report regularly to our employees. I meet regularly with our unions as well.

You mentioned "buy in." I believe very strongly in a consensus-based management system, which wasn't necessarily the case in the past. I use an executive committee structure with all the senior heads that meets ostensibly once a week together and has a very interestingly evolving consensus management system. They didn't bind to that originally. It was interesting. The first executive committee meeting we had lasted about ten minutes and there was like one issue on the agenda. Now, they go almost two hours and the comfort level is that they can bring issues to an executive committee, they can get peer review of the issue, if you will, and peer feedback. It has been very helpful. They have seen in "real time" the benefit to doing this. It has led to, I think, a natural evolution.

That has not always been easy. We have needed to put a big change in our trademark organization, for example. I went to the next level down of managers, the trademark managers and the middle managers to try to get this change in. It was a pendency issue, how long does it take to do the work? I wanted to accelerate it and get to a goal that we had set for the Vice President. They said, basically, back to me, "Well, what do you want us to do?"

I said, "Well, I am not a trademark manager. I am happy to help you. I am happy to give you some feedback, and I am happy to clear the path for you when you develop this action plan, but I am not going to tell you how to do your work." That was interesting because it took a little while for them to appreciate that they were responsible and accountable for developing this plan and making it work.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, where do you think you are in the change process? It sounds like it is beginning. I am wondering what is sort of out there and how much longer you think it will take.

Mr. Dickinson: Well, it will be a function, I think, of how the growth proceeds in our office and what happens to the legislation. I think those are two big issues that will face it. I think we are well on our way to the kind of change managers that we need now to meet the challenges now, and we are also planning very aggressively. We just had our strategic planning retreat the other day for what we see as our likely challenges coming up.

We see continued growth. We see continued stress on the quality of the product we produce and the service we provide. Actually, quality turned out to be a higher indicator than even the pendency time, which has been our traditional performance measure. So, we are making an all-out effort to stress quality in the work that we do.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you said you were hiring many more new people. Because of this change, are you hiring different types of people?

Mr. Dickinson: We are focusing primarily on hiring examiners, which is a high tech worker to do the professional review of the files. We have a huge automation activity, too, which we can talk about. The productivity gains of this are starting to be realized. We are just really at the beginning of that realization. We are hopeful that we can apply these productivity gains from the automation activities in times for things like electronic filing of applications, the electronic searching that we are doing much more aggressively these days that will allow us to focus more on the examiner end of the work pool.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay. Well, that's great. We will be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Tonight's conversation is with Todd Dickinson, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Acting Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks.

Well, in the last segment you just began to talk about the future in technology so why don't we spend a few minutes doing that? Why don't we look forward to the future of PTO and tell us what you think that will be about.

Mr. Dickinson: Well, increasingly it is going to be about automation and electronic involvement, if you will, both internally and externally. We are just on the edge of the opportunity that people have to file their work with us electronically. You can file trademark applications now and soon you will be able to file patent applications. They are a more complex document.

We also have automated searching, as I mentioned before. We also recently did something, which the agency, I think, itself thought was kind of radical. I thought it seemed pretty much like mom and apple pie, but it has proved to be enormously successful. That's putting our database, all the patents we have issued and the trademark registrations we have issued up on the Internet, searchable for free by anybody in the world. We are a public agency, and we are required to make that information public and disseminate it as widely as we can. Again, it has been a huge success. Again, it is on our web site.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, there are two parts to the technology question. First is an internal thing. Earlier you mentioned that you are using technology to work better, maybe you can tell us about that.

Mr. Dickinson: Yes. We have spent an enormous amount of investment on automating that we have internally. Searching is a good example. Traditionally, a patent examiner would go to huge file rooms of all of the past patents and other technical literature in addition to patents and search it by hand through the paper. Now, through the automated searching that we have, we have something like 900 data bases, plus all the patents from our office, the Japanese office, and the European office on-line. They can search by key words. They can search by classification. They can search in a wide variety of ways. I think that significantly improves the quality of the searching that we are capable of doing.

Mr. Lawrence: Then you also mentioned that technology is being used by your customers, in particular the Internet, for example. Tell us how technology is affecting that.

Mr. Dickinson: Well, a couple of ways. Pretty soon you will be able to file your application with us electronically and pay for it by credit card. We are one of the first government agencies that will accept your credit card electronically.

We are also fairly shortly going to have e-mail communication directly with customers, which I think is a great improvement for reasons as broad as everybody who has access to the Internet to as mundane as it avoids the problem of missing each other's telephone calls and telephone tag back and forth.

They raise their own issues, of course. We have to decide what e-mail to download and capture in the file permanently, because it is a permanent record, and what we might not capture. There are policy judgments that have to be made, but it will be an interesting challenge. The other side of the coin is that people invent things on the Internet and invent ways of using the Internet so we are actually receiving a fair number of patent applications directed to ways to use the Internet.

Mr. Lawrence: Yes, I was going to ask you, what are the management challenges in dealing with the technological change?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, that challenge in particular affects us because we are seeing a rapid increase in the number of those kinds of applications and keeping up with technology has always been a primary challenge for our office.

One hundred years ago we had to keep up with electronic technology in the telephone, then eventually the television. In this century, we had to deal with the evolution in aeronautics. Before the century began, we used to require you to submit a model of a heavier-than-aircraft invention that you claim to have invented because nobody believed it could be done. In 1903, the Wright Brothers flew and so all aeronautics has been a product of this entire century. So, we have to keep up with technology as each new technology has come along.

The current challenges are things in biotechnology and in computers and software that present unique challenges. The principal way we do it is to hire examiners who have the skills and the knowledge in these areas. If they need to be updated, we send them out for additional training to bring their skill set up to where it needs to be. We bring in a lot of our customers to help educate our examiners on the latest technologies that they need to do the examination.

Mr. Lawrence: Looking further out, say ten years, you know, how do you envision citizens interacting with PTO in the year 2010?

Mr. Dickinson: I would guess by the year 2010 it would almost entirely be electronic, or at least I would guess 75 to 80 percent electronic. I think we would also interact more globally.

One of our biggest challenges is the fact that while the Internet and the globalization of the economy have proceeded so rapidly, the systems that govern electrical property are all nationally based. The laws are nationally based.

One of the big policy challenges we are working on is how to develop, if you will, a global patent system that benefits small inventors, benefits large inventors, small trademark owners and large ones. That is a big challenge, reconciling all those different systems.

Another way we are doing it is connecting all of our offices electronically. There are three major offices in the world that gets about 85 percent of the applications: the Japanese, the European patent office and our office. We need regularly to establish connectivity between our offices, the so-called, "Wire the World" Project, that will allow the information to be shared, reduce redundancies, and again improve the quality and the speed with which we provide our product.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of place will PTO be to work then for the employees? What will their jobs look like?

Mr. Dickinson: Well, if our space consolidation plan goes forward, we will have a brand new building which is all fiber-optically wired. It will have the latest technology. We have some of the latest up-to-date personal workstations for our examiners in the government. That will obviously continue to evolve.

Hopefully, the climate and the physical plant itself will be a new and better place than it is now. We face the same challenge as anybody else does with aging plant, air-conditioning that doesn't work, and peeling paint and everything else. Hopefully, that will be a lot better, but I think automation, like in most businesses, will be the primary driver, and hopefully, as I say, we will get the productivity gains that people are anticipating for this significant investment.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the types of employees, then? It seems like the subject matter itself is changing very quickly. What would you think the type of employees might be?

Mr. Dickinson: Our employee has changed as the technology has changed. You are absolutely right. We hire, for example, a significant chunk of Ph.D. geneticists in this country. We also have a very diverse workforce. I anticipate that diversity increasing. Of the new pool that we just hired, 30 percent are Asian-Pacific American, 23 percent are African-American. That is for us a very pleasing result that we are regarded by such a diverse set of potential employees as a great place to work. I would expect that that diversity would continue.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the management challenges in the future?

Mr. Dickinson: Hopefully, the growth, well, I guess I shouldn't say hopefully the growth will slack off because I don't know what will happen in that regard. But hopefully we will adapt our systems to deal with this growth in new and better ways. I think we have done a great job to this point, but if the growth continues as it has, and every indication is that it will because many corporations are now starting to see their patent portfolio in very strategic terms as opposed to just the traditional terms.

We need to have the systems that will allow that growth to proceed. So reorganizing our organization is critical, getting the legislation passed so that we can have the flexibilities we need to meet those management challenges is critical, too.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it sounds like in the future you will have a much greater percentage of knowledge workers, as we might call them now. I am wondering, then, from a leadership perspective what we might expect to see in terms of change then for the type of people who would then be in charge?

Mr. Dickinson: We have always had a pretty high percentage of knowledge workers, if you define knowledge broadly. These are folks who are required to know an awful lot about the particular technologies that they deal with. But as the type of knowledge and the type of information changes and people are using the system to protect the intellectual asset that knowledge represents, we are seeing a definite movement in that direction.

That is one of the key reasons our system is growing because of the recognition that intellectual capital as opposed to physical capital is the wave of the future in the next century. Since we are the mechanism by which you protect that capital intellectually, we are seeing significant growth.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Dickinson, for spending some time with us tonight. I have enjoyed our conversation very much.

This has been the Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I am Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. To learn more about the endowment programs and research and the new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at See you next week.

Q. Todd Dickinson interview
Todd Dickinson

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