Patent Law

Government paralegals making up to $80K had little work to do, report says

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Dozens of paralegals hired in 2009 to combat a growing backlog of patent appeals were often idle because a hiring freeze halted hiring of judges to hear the cases, according to a new report.

The work-at-home paralegals filled their time surfing the Internet, doing household tasks, watching TV and exercising, according to the report (PDF) by the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office. The paralegals were paid $60,000 to $80,000 a year, and some even earned bonuses of up to $3,500. The Washington Post and the Washington Times covered the findings.

The paralegals’ activities outside of work were recorded on their time sheets as “other time.” The PTO paid $4.3 million for the “other time” work along with nearly $700,000 for paralegal bonuses.

Supervisors and judges at the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trial and Appeal Board were aware that the paralegals didn’t have enough work to do, but they ignored the problem because they believed hiring new judges would resolve the issue, the report said. Some supervisors also feared opposition to different duties by the paralegal union, the report added.

After supervisors learned of the investigation, they assigned “busy work” that included writing an article on the history of the appeals board that was never published, according to the report. The probe began after three whistleblower paralegals complained.

The Patent and Trademark Office says it is reviewing the report and will issue a formal response in the next two months.

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