Critical Update: How the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Plans to Run ‘Better, Cheaper, Faster’ Tech

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Chief Information Officer Jamie Holcombe and his team are stabilizing and modernizing IT to help meet growing demands in a changing marketplace.

The nation’s top inventors and businesses rely heavily on the United States Patent and Trademark Office to issue patents for inventions and register trademarks for product and intellectual property identification. The agency has come to embrace increasingly more emerging and advanced technologies in recent years to meet its mission, and it is now also enduring a large-scale modernization.

USPTO Chief Information Officer Jamie Holcombe is working to help make the agency’s systems “better, cheaper and faster.”

Holcombe joined the agency at the request of Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director Andrei Iancu, who immediately articulated his aims to “propel the USPTO into the next decade.” 

“He wanted to ensure that all the up-to-date commercial tools were available to the USPTO examiners so that we could conduct our business in the most advanced way possible,” Holcombe told Nextgov in the latest episode of Critical Update. “And so with that challenge, I came on board.”

The CIO began his career in the Army, where he served as company commander in the 1116th Signal Battalion, and he also said he was West Point Military Academy's first-ever computer science graduate. He went on to work in various roles across industry and prior to his current federal role, was the chief executive officer of a cybersecurity startup. With his early Army, communications, and security roots in mind, one of the first moves Holcombe made as CIO was to elevate the chief information security officer to report directly to him. In the episode, he highlights the impacts the switch had on the USPTO’s personnel. 

“We have everything very secure,” he said.

Holcombe outlined what the various undergoing modernization efforts look like on a day-to-day scale, and shared his approach to “stabilizing the base” and “retiring technical debt,” as well as other key components of the transformation process. He also offered a glimpse into the agency’s efforts conducting a robotic process automation center of excellence, through which it seeks to gain all insiders’ use cases and requirements for automating their processes—and further put the RPA to use. Artificial intelligence and user-centered design are also being unleashed across USPTO, and Holcombe had much to share on the results the agency and its workforce are seeing from the work. 

He detailed, for example, how applying a user-centered approach to innovation can not only spur wider adoption of new tech but also “helps in the viral nature of acceptance” of new tools and resources.

In the midst of that ongoing innovation, USPTO is one of several agencies that continues to use COBOL—a computer programming language developed in the 1960s but still underpins some critical government systems. Holcombe offered some reasons why and also reflected back on what he’s learned about modernizing through several decades of modernization. 

Spoiler alert: “You’ve just got to get people through it,” he said. 

You can listen to the full episode below or download and subscribe to Critical Update in Apple Podcasts or Google Play.

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