2020 PFIG Recipient Cynthia Okoye
Journal Entry #1
I am currently interning at the United States Patent & Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. With this internship, I’m able to see how intellectual property in mechanical engineering is protected. It is also a way to determine how my interest in law and my skills in engineering could coincide. My dad introduced me to the career in patent examination. I later decided to give it a try and applied for the intern role. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the entire internship online, and this year was the patent office’s first virtual internship.
I am currently working with an immediate patent examiner (IPE) and a supervisory patent examiner (SPE). My SPE assigns the work of the patent applications I need to examine. My IPE helps guide me through my work and conducts more thorough training in examination if needed. Both are always free to answer my questions relating to the job. My main work responsibilities currently are to examine patent applications in order to grant or reject them official patents. Much of the work is independent, but the IPE and SPE will be there to discuss and review my work with me.
In my 3 weeks of being an intern, I learned many strategies on searching for different technologies to determine there isn’t a device already invented that is similar to the current invention I’m examining. It’s amazing to me how different inventors have similar circumstances in which they create very similar technology! I like what I am doing so far, and this supports what I am interested in doing after college. I am most proud of how I am able to adapt my engineering skills. I was worried I was not going to use much of it, but the background knowledge is important to understand various functions of inventions and the technical terms in a patent application. If I had one piece of advice for a student who’d like to intern at the patent office, I’d say make sure you are truly interested in this career and would genuinely like to learn more about patent examination.
Journal Entry #2
I’m about halfway through my externship, and I’ve enjoyed it! I really like being able to examine new technology firsthand. The more I read through a disclosed invention’s claims and descriptions, the more I can put myself in the inventor’s perspective as if I created it! While reading, I understand more of the problems that need solving and why certain features are added. Also, I am learning the classifications of patent applications, the corresponding statutes for granting patents, and the filing system to process them. Analyzing every feature of each claim and comparing them against prior art is essential. Searching for prior art when applicable is the real work in my opinion. An application may have several claims with many features that create the invention, so searching for each claim can take time, especially as a new examiner. I must say I enjoy it because it’s interesting reading and learning about similar inventions. If I find one that has the same features as the one being examined, I inform the inventor, and they’ll have to make changes.
I learned the importance of being very analytical and reading every term in an invention’s claims. A phrase or even a word can make a difference in the state of an application. Court cases involving patents can impact possession rights and loss of money. Recently, I attended an oral hearing to experience the process of appeals. I will be meeting with a judge soon, and I am excited. Several case laws are pivotal in the way current applications are examined, so meeting someone who can make influential decisions is amazing!
Patent examining is very independent, so it’s important for me to reach out to my supervisors for assistance. Though the experience is completely virtual, the supervisors are a message or call away. There is plenty of information and technical details to know when analyzing applications and drafting a response to it, so I always try to seek help. I consistently have training meetings with my assigned examiner. That helps so much with understanding what I should look for and how to respond to different aspects of an application. My assigned examiner is great and makes the examining process easier because they really dedicate their time to inform and effectively answer my endless questions. In my role, I’ll draft a certain response to claims, and they guide me through it to correct technical terms, include necessary references and statutes to explain the response, and explain detailed formatting tips so it’s readable to the inventor. My goal is to thoroughly inform the inventor why they’re getting the certain response to their claims. It was helpful that my first assignment had many extraordinary aspects, so I know how to pinpoint various components in future applications.
Journal Entry #3
Time has honestly flown by fast! Next week will be my last full week being an extern at the Patent Office, and I'll be done for summer 2020. Taking this internship was really important to me, especially to gain more knowledge on how some of the patent prosecution procedures worked. After working here, I can say I see myself working in the field, whether at the Patent Office, law firm, etc. I appreciate how employees can work from home at the Patent Office and work flexible schedules, which really suited me during the externship. Employees had schedules that worked for them personally, which was nice, and I worked at my own pace. I wish I had the experience of being at the Patent Office’s campus befriending other externs in-person and taking trips to D.C, which would have formed great memories.
Though my work was not intensely mechanical engineering, I learned some practical mechanical engineering applications from my assigned patent applications. Through reading the specifications on the inventions of different patents or patent applications I found while searching, inventors put technical background and research into the documents. It’s like I’m reading from an engineering textbook which I thought was interesting to learn from. It was rewarding to see how the concepts and information taught in the classroom was applied in the making of the inventions I reviewed. I also appreciate having my Primary Examiner take the time and periodically review my work with me, with meetings lasting from 1 to 2 hours. After each lesson, I got better at the role, whether it was being quicker at searching, fully understanding what I needed to find when looking into prior art, or effectively drafting an action to the patent application. I’m honestly proud of my improvement from the first week to now.
This summer, I really came to understand that patent examiners have really important jobs in society. Last year, I did not know much about them but now, I appreciate their roles. Think about all the new technology surrounding us currently, even the simplest items. Before production and dispatch into the market, they were once in the stage of being just an idea or a project in the works that needed improvements. People wanted to protect such ideas and projects by drafting a patent application to go through a patent examiner to determine its patentability. Not only does the examiner grant ownership to that particular invention but they also promote innovation. I am glad to be a part of that process and really hope to continue such work in the future.