The Patent Office Is Hunting for an Artificial Intelligence Expert


The agency CIO said he’s looking for someone to provide critical technical insights and accelerate the office’s robust AI-driven efforts.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently launched a recruitment effort to hire its first-ever senior-level artificial intelligence expert to advance the agency’s applications of the emerging technology and provide technical expertise to keep employees on the leading edge.

In a conversation with Nextgov, USPTO’s chief information officer provided a look inside the search to fill the new role and explained how it all fits into the agency’s broader vision around modernization.

“We need to figure out how we can use those algorithms to the best of our abilities,” CIO Henry “Jamie” Holcombe said Friday. “We’ve seen an explosion in AI submissions and so AI is now maturing to a point to where it actually can be used—we don’t want it to be a buzzword.” 

USPTO’s mission is to award patents to inventors and businesses and register trademarks for products and intellectual property. When Holcombe took on the agency’s top information technology management role earlier this year, the office already had many AI-related efforts underway. He’s tasked with aligning them along a “common theme,” and said hiring an expert to lead their efforts would accelerate the development of future AI solutions. 

The agency is currently about midway through the recruiting process and is using all the channels it has available “to ensure that [its] canvassed the whole nation,” Holcombe said. 

Though the AI lead will report directly to him, the CIO made it a point to note that he’s considering talent from across the country and that relocation won’t be mandatory. USPTO already employs one of the largest percentages of teleworkers across the federal government, and the CIO believes the option is a strong incentive that could help the government compete to recruit America’s top techies.

“I don’t care where this person sits because we are going to use technology to our advantage,” Holcombe said. “What I need is that person’s expertise and experience, so that we can really make this place the best place for AI.”

He’s looking for someone to provide technical insights and expert knowledge across the agency’s numerous AI initiatives. For example, USPTO is implementing the technology in both patent search and trademark image search to speed up its examiners’ ability to spot fraud or whether the contents have already been submitted before. The agency also applies AI to auto-classify patents and connect them to the correct examiners more rapidly. 

It’s also one of many agencies to introduce robotic process automation to quicken the processes and procedures of traditionally manual tasks. Further, insiders also recently launched a request for comments to better understand how the public is thinking about and approaching the emerging technology. The new AI expert would not only advise the CIO and his deputy regarding all its AI and machine-learning initiatives but will also support the use of clean data and operationalize much of the efforts. 

“It isn’t just guiding and coaching, but rather giving on-the-ground-roll-up-the-sleeves, real, practical advice on how to make these algorithms operational to get the results that we want,” Holcombe said. 

The AI lead will help ensure the team doesn’t repeat past mistakes implementing the tech that was made over the last two decades as it’s come to fruition. The new hire will also be expected to weigh in on any potentially inadvertent implications around bias as the agency deploys new AI applications. 

“The fact of the matter is we try to do things very scientifically and objectively,” Holcombe said. 

In that light, the office has already connected with other agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Station, as well as the U.S. Courts and Copyright Office, to learn about their AI-driven work. Holcombe also recently reached out to Veterans Affairs’ first director of AI and is looking forward to connecting with that office soon. Ultimately, he said his internal workforce has been receptive and supportive throughout the effort and they really recognize that AI is “the new wave” that offers much promise in fulfilling the agency’s mission.

“We are going to build this the right way and make sure the foundation is secure,” Holcombe said. 

The deadline to submit applications is Oct. 25.