Take the 2-minute tour ×
Ask Patents is a question and answer site for people interested in improving and participating in the patent system. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've always wondered if there was a financial background check on the examiner and all other USPTO staff that work on a patent application. Or if there is a disclaimer section for those who worked on a case?

I'm asking because these days, it is kind of hard not to be invested in Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, [...]. directly or indirectly (pension funds, etc).

Is there any verification to make sure that no examiner who handle an Apple patent application will not hold shares in Apple.

And what if an examiner was to indirectly (through a pension fund) hold shares in Google, shouldn't this important information be disclaimed on a patent application by Google?

Shouldn't every staff member who work on a case for Company X, be required to disclaim whether they own shares, directly or indirectly or whether their family own shares directly or indirectly in Company X.

It can be easy to turn a "blind eye" to some facts if you "financially favored" such company, no?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The patent examiners are required to adhere to strict ethics codes (PDF warning) put forth by the Department of Commerce.

As a part of this examiner's of a particular grade must supply the following (page 12 of the PDF):

If you are designated as required to file such a report, please keep in mind that the information you disclose is used to provide advice to you to help ensure that you do not inadvertently engage in prohibited activities. To provide this advice (and to certify that the report includes all necessary information), it is important that the information you provide be as complete as possible. Specifically, please be sure to include:
- the full name of any mutual fund (not just the generic name of the company managing the fund);
- specific holdings in any IRA, 401(k) account, trust, or investment account (other than broadly-diversified mutual funds, if you file a confidential report (OGE Form 450)); - short description of the activities or industry sector of any privately-held company or limited partnership; and
- assets and sources of income of your spouse and dependent children

More specific details from page 10:

You cannot participate as a Government official in a matter that will have a direct and predictable effect on your financial interests; on the financial interests of your spouse, minor children, household members, general partners, outside employers, or prospective employers; or on the financial interests of an organization in which you serve as a trustee, officer, or board member. This includes a matter that affects a company in which you own stock. Note that for patent examiners, the disqualification applies not only if you own stock in a company seeking a patent, but if you own stock in a company making devices similar to those for which a patent is sought. Thus, you should not own stock in any company making devices covered by your Art Unit, unless you restrict your interests to those that will be covered by the exceptions listed below.
Exceptions to the General Rule: Exceptions permit you to participate in matters affecting a financial interest if the financial interest is:
- in a publicly-traded diversified mutual fund; - less than $50,000 in a publicly-traded “sector-specific fund” (a fund that focuses on a specific industry, foreign country, or state);
- a publicly-traded stock or bond holding of $15,000 or less in a company;
- a publicly-traded stock or bond holding of $25,000 or less in a company (which allows participation in broad policy matters affecting the company as a member of a group or industry sector (if total investments in the group/industry sector are $50,000 or less), but not matters affecting the company individually); or
- covered by a conflict of interest waiver (which are generally available only for employees serving overseas or in unusual circumstances—contact the Ethics Law and Programs Division at 202-482-5384 for information on waivers).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.