Patent office touts online payment system as development success story

USPTO CIO John Owens (FedScoop)

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Those applying to protect their inventions or brand names can now pay application fees using a more modern web-based application, said tech officials at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Fee Processing Next Generation, or FPNG for short, offers a kind of “shopping cart model” where users can select which fees they want to pay on which applications, the agency’s Chief Information Officer John Owens said. This function may be especially useful for intellectual property law firms filing several applications at once.

The app resides on MyUSPTO, a platform that launched alongside FPNG in April and that allows people to use a single login to reach a range of the office’s services.

Owens’ staff teamed with USPTO’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer to release FPNG. From the start, staff used agile concepts to create FPNG, and worked with their Patent and Trademark public advisory committees, which are made up of industry representatives to test the product and get feedback on design.

But more recently, Owens said the team embraced DevOps, a philosophy that emphasizes rapid deployments and more coordination between development and operations.

“Using the DevOps methodology, [we] wanted to be able to identify, fix and deploy a single bug fix in 24 hours,” Owens told FedScoop after his presentation during DevOpsDays DC 2016, hosted this week by USPTO. “That was the goal.”

Owens said that use of the new payment system has already exceeded targets in the first week: Currently, the app has 16,275 user accounts. Owens said the success of the deployment gives credence to the argument that the government can use more innovative development processes.

“Of course we want to continue that DevOps culture shift to say, ‘Yes, we don’t have to be the federal government and take forever.’ We can do what industry is doing,” he told FedScoop.

The agency, like many others across government, is in the process of replacing its legacy systems. USPTO also faces a special demand from its user base, said Simmons Lough, FPNG tech lead in the CFO’s office, who also spoke at the DevOps event on Thursday.

“USPTO’s customers are the innovation community,” he said. “And we have to keep up with them.” Indeed, the fee-funded agency processes $3 billion in revenue fees a year.

At the event, Lough outlined an agreement Owens and CFO Tony Scardino signed that laid out their processes for making sure that the team could deploy quick bug fixes.

Encouraging a DevOps culture and using more innovative practices at the USPTO has been a passion project for Owens. During his own presentation Wednesday, Owens said when he came to government in 2008, the agency was doing only one deployment a year — if that.

“The federal government is spending $82 billion this year on IT. And quite honestly, we suck at it,” he said. Considering that budget, he added, it “is a little ridiculous not to be known for the best IT in the world. That’s a lot of IT, folks.”

Contact the reporter on this story via email Whitney.Wyckoff@fedscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @whitneywyckoff. Sign up for all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning at 6:00 here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Commerce Department, Departments, John Owens, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
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