Stephen Barr's recent column in the Washington Post (Dec. 21) noted the retirement of Ronald J. Stern, president of the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA), the union representing patent examiners and other USPTO professional staff, including librarians. Stern worked as a patent examiner for 41 years and served as POPA president for the past 23 years.
What does this have to do with patent information? Good question. Well, under Stern's leadership, POPA exercised significant influence on the development of patent information systems. For example, in 2001 POPA and the USPTO brokered a deal that gave patent examiners a significant salary increase (10-15%) in exchange for giving up paper search files, a goal of USPTO management since the 1980s. This allowed the USPTO to more forward with its implementation of the Image File Wrapper (IFW) system. Today, the web-based IFW contains scanned images of documents in hundreds of thousands of patent applications filed from June 30, 2003 to the present. (Utility and plant applications are eligible, with some exceptions, for publication 18-months after the earliest filing date.) In addition, public users can use IFW to access provisional applications and reexamination proceedings.
The deal with POPA also allowed the USPTO to move forward with its plans to convert its Public Search Facility (PSF) into an electronic research center. The USPTO removed more than 26 miles of linear shelf-space of paper patent documents before relocating the PSF from Crystal City to its new campus in Alexandria.