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WASHINGTON HEARSAY

www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A49564-2002Jun2

FOR SOON-TO-BE-LAID-OFF PTO TRADEMARK ATTORNEYS, AN INSULTING ANALOGY

By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 3, 2002; Page E04
 

It is bad enough to get word that you'll be laid off, but when the pink slip comes with a lot of advice about how easy it will be to find a new job, then it can be a little hard to take. That's what happened last week when U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director James E. Rogan announced plans to lay off 135 trademark lawyers, more than one-third of the agency's examination staff in what likely is the most sweeping workforce reduction in the agency's history.

Rogan, the former California congressman who lost reelection after serving as House manager in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, attempted to console lawyers by comparing their layoffs with his electoral defeat 18 months ago. Some PTO lawyers questioned his analogy. "Maybe I understand that better than most," Rogan said to employees in an e-mail obtained by Hearsay. "From the time I was 10 years old I wanted to be a congressman; 30 years of studying, preparing and working toward that goal finally landed me in my dream job." "Only four years later I was defeated for reelection in a very public and politically brutal manner," Rogan said. "The voters I had served for 17 years as a gang murder prosecutor, judge, state representative and congressman summarily fired me about 18 months ago."

Rogan then told the soon-to-be-laid-off lawyers that they'll land on their feet, just like he did when he took a job at the Venable law firm. "I ended up going on some 40 interviews over a couple of months before finding a law firm that wanted to hire me (not all of them did), and that I felt was the right fit," Rogan said in the e-mail. "The good news was that once I entered the private sector as a lawyer, I was able quickly to build some security during my brief time there. I know this will be the experience for our lawyers, too, once you get back on your feet."

Rogan's comments angered the rank and file, said Howard Friedman, the lawyers' representative at the National Treasury Employees Union, Chapter 245. He said it was wrong for Rogan "to equate his losing reelection and his ending up at Venable with a high-paying partnership with government attorneys who live paycheck to paycheck and have five- and six-figure student loans." "It was a very bitter letter to read, and it has left a very bitter taste in the bargaining unit's mouth," Friedman said. Friedman said the PTO's economic forecast is out of sync with the Bush administration, which is predicting a recovery. If the economy recovers, so will trademark applications.

Some lawyers at the agency wondered about the downsizing, which comes just two years after the agency hired more than 100 lawyers. That hiring spree came at the behest of companies and Congress who wanted faster turnaround of trademark applications. About the same time, federal bureaucrats were wringing their hands about all the lawyers fleeing for fat paychecks at law firms. Such was the concern at the PTO, where the union that represents trademark examiners were seeking wage increases to match the $100,000-plus incomes of first-year associates. At the time, GS-13, Step 1, salaries were $60,890.

Then, the Internet bubble economy burst. Trademark application filings dropped 21 percent last year, the most in the PTO's history, and over the past two years they are down an unprecedented 33 percent. Those declines forced the layoffs, managers said. They are also a sign of the times and a dramatic reversal from the Internet economy boom in which intellectual property was the currency of the realm.

The lawyers to be laid off are to be notified by the end of July, and the layoffs take effect Sept. 30.

2002 The Washington Post Company


 
 
 
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