BPA Benchmarking Report
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The mission of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is to examine and issue patents and trademarks and administer all applicable laws pertaining to patents and trademarks. The records of USPTO are crucial to protecting the legal rights of patent and trademark holders, with severe penalties to those who infringe upon their rights. USPTO must protect these rights as long as they endure, as well as preserve the records for every patent and trademark to enable the examination of "prior art" for current applicants. Consequently, the development and implementation of sound records management policies and procedures ensuring the proper disposition of USPTO records are vital to the mission of the agency.
Records Management and IT at USPTO fall under the purview of the Office of the Chief Information Officer, Office of Data Architecture and Services, Data Administration Division. Under this structure, the agency Records Officer and the Electronic Records Team Leader serve as consultants to the business units and the IT offices regarding the development of new electronic systems. They have no direct enforcement powers to approve or withhold approval of any USPTO automated information systems. Their Director, however, is able to enforce some level of compliance through the Technical Review Board upon which she sits and which governs the IT life cycle. The manager of the Division also enforces records management requirements through the Data Management Plan that all IT projects must prepare and adhere to through their life cycle.
USPTO created the Electronic Records Management Technical Standard and Guideline (ERM-TSG) to ensure that all new USPTO automated information systems comply with statutory and agency recordkeeping requirements. ERM-TSG provides detailed instructions for the preparation of a requirements checklist for electronic records management. With the ERM-TSG in place, the agency Records Officer and Electronic Records Team Leader are able to help business units and IT staff members incorporate recordkeeping requirements into the lifecycle of new systems. They work cooperatively with the business units to encourage records management functionality and insert records management in the data management plan for new automated information systems. They often address electronic records management issues with the business units and the IT offices if electronic records are included in the new system. New systems are usually identified using the USPTO Strategic Information Technology Plan, and by reviewing Data Management Plans that have been submitted to the Technical Review Board for approval. Furthermore, the agency records officer is invited to business unit and data management meetings and is given the opportunity to explain the risks of not including records management functionality, and the business units conduct a cost-benefit analysis on mitigating the risks. The cost benefit analysis is essential to the development of new systems at USPTO, as not all electronic records management requirements may be feasible or necessary.
System developers along with Business Area Record Stewards review the recordkeeping requirements in the thirteen major electronic records management categories listed in the ERM-TSG and determine which of them will apply to the new system. Not all thirteen areas of consideration pertain to each automated information system - the developer determines which are applicable and what needs to be built into the system to meet the applicable requirements.
Records management task supported
The USPTO ERM-TSG supports the systems development life cycle for electronic recordkeeping. The ERM-TSG is a tool used by the business units and system developers to ensure that recordkeeping requirements are incorporated into new USPTO systems. In addition, the ERM-TSG defines the legal requirements that system developers and business unit managers must adhere with respect to the development of any new electronic systems.
The USPTO ERM-TSG process is designed for use by System Development Managers, System Maintenance Managers, Project Managers, Systems Managers, Business Area Record Stewards, Operational Record Stewards, and Technical Record Stewards within USPTO.
Benefits and Strengths
The Electronic Records Management Technical Standard and Guideline clearly lays out the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the design, development, and implementation of electronic systems with respect to recordkeeping requirements. The ERM-TSG identifies recordkeeping requirements in the form of a checklist that all systems developers must fill out. The IT staff is familiar with the requirements and finds them easy to use. The business units are beginning to see electronic records management as a need, and are asking for it in their systems. More importantly, ERM-TSG ensures that electronic recordkeeping will be incorporated into all new electronic systems. No new electronic systems can be developed without first receiving approval from the Technical Review Board, which ensures that all of the ERM-TSG requirements are met and adhered to prior to implementation of the system. Another of the standard and guideline's great strengths is that it includes a combination of requirements for recordkeeping functionality and process-specific records requirements, such as case file metadata. The process takes full advantage of the fact that many requirements for records and case files are stable across many patent and trademark processes and only need to be identified through business process analysis once. Thus, USPTO's standard and guideline provides some of the advantages of business process analysis in a process that integrates records management into the systems development life cycle.
The limitations reported by USPTO records management staff members are that electronic records management is still not perceived as a business requirement by all of the IT staff. This is primarily a cultural issue, and more records management training needs to be conducted in the Office of the Chief Information Officer. Furthermore, limited resources often hamper the ability of USPTO to implement the program as fully as they would like. The Records Officer does not have the authority to approve or withhold approval from a system in the same way that the FBI's Records Officer does as part of their certification process, although records management has significant influence through the Technical Standard and Guideline, the Data Management Plan, and personal contact.
Environment for which it is suited
The ERM-TSG is best suited for a fairly large agency that has received high-level management support including support from the CIO for incorporating recordkeeping requirements into new electronic systems based on the business processes involved. The USPTO's program could be most easily adapted by agencies that have a good, cooperative relationship between records managers and IT personnel.
Significance to NARA
The Electronic Records Management Technical Standard and Guideline complies with all laws, regulations, statutes, and standards that mandate and support records management and electronic records management in the Federal Government, including DOD 5015.2-STD, which was endorsed by NARA. The USPTO ERM-TSG could serve as an excellent model for other agencies with similar records management and IT structures. The degree to which USPTO has crafted this guideline for the unique needs of its patent and trademark business processes makes this standard an excellent model to emulate but would also require that another agency do extensive customization of the model to suit its own distinct business needs.