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Patent & Trademark's Tech Guru

If you thought federal budget cuts and sequestration were slowing innovation at federal agencies, think again. The US Patent & Trademark Office has some major software system releases coming this year, so we talked to CIO John Owens.

  • John (right), originally from Rome, NY, spent 13 years at AOL as a senior technical director, and also worked at GE, Keane, E-Systems Melpar division and Martin Marietta. He became USPTO’s CIO in December 2008, partly because he felt a connection to the Founding Fathers who thought intellectual property should be protected. He was also driven by the fact that, while working in the private sector, he waited as long as six years to get his patent approved.
  • The agency had struggled prior to 2008 to update its patent and trademark management systems. But John tells us his office is now working on unified web-based applications built with modern components that will let examiners work in a holistic environment.
  • The agency just relaunched its website, allowing people to search and get electronic access to US patents, rather than ordering paper copies. 
  • Because USPTO is a fee-based organization, it runs almost like a frugal company and has been tapping private industry for ideas on being more efficient. For example, it recently held a DevOps meetup featuring speakers from Etsy.
  • John oversees 500 staff and hundreds of contractors, but he has over 160 highly technical positions to fill. Why? John says he’s shifting from using contractors to hiring in-house software engineers with experience in software development and IT engineering. Another reason he’s building his tech talent is to meet his goal of quarterly software releases for each of his major products, and would like to see that frequency go up over time. He's hosting a career fair for veterans with IT skills. 

  • John is a fan of startups and says they just need to be persistent and creative as they work through the federal procurement process.

  • Fun facts about John: He’s a huge fan of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and strategy board games; his goal is to build one piece of furniture for each room in his house; and he took a three-month sabbatical when he was at AOL to double the size of his house by himself.