Get to Know Series Konnect

Get to Know… Romulo Delmendo!

Romulo (Rom) Delmendo is a KAIPO member who retired in Dec 2020 after serving at the USPTO for 30 years. He is now a partner at Davidson Berquist Jackson & Gowdey, LLP.

Rom in his PTAB Shirlington office when he served as an Administrative Patent Judge (APJ).

Q: Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised mostly in Seoul, Korea (but our family lived in Daegu for a short while when I was about 3-4 years old because my father was stationed there). My father, who is from the Philippines, had been transferred from Japan to Korea (after the 1953 cease-fire Armistice) as an engineer in the US Army Corps of Engineers. There, he met my Korean mother, who spoke English and was working as a secretary for one of the US Army officers. I attended American schools in Korea, graduating from Seoul Foreign School in 1979, and then went on to engineering school in the United States, graduating from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1983.

Q: How did you get interested in the IP field?

When I was working as an engineer in the NY/NJ area, a colleague told me that most engineering jobs have limits and that I should consider becoming a patent lawyer. I asked him how I can become one, and he answered that the best way to accomplish this was to join the PTO, which, according to him, paid at least some tuition money for law school. The career change possibility was intriguing, although based on information I had previously gathered when the PTO recruiters came to our college campus, I knew the PTO did not pay a competitive starting salary. It was this advice from my colleague that planted the seed for my eventual decision to apply to the PTO. (The last time I checked, my colleague, who had looked into the PTO himself, stayed on in the same engineering career. After joining the PTO, however, I did convince another colleague to move down from NJ to join the PTO, and he still works as a Primary Examiner.

Rom and his family at Crystal City Mall in Arlington, VA in 1989. Rom worked as a patent examiner in Group 150 when the USPTO was located in Crystal City, Arlington, VA, before moving to the current location in Alexandria, VA.

Q: When did you join the USPTO and how did you learn about the careers as a patent examiner and/or an administrative patent judge?

I was hired in the early part of 1989 to help in the PTO’s “18 by ‘89” campaign (reduce pendency to 18 months by 1989). I have to tell you an interesting anecdote when my SPE called me during the hiring process. He called to ask me whether I was still interested in the job. I answered: “Yes.” Next, he asked: “When can you start?” I was confused—I asked him: “Aren’t we going to have a personal interview?” He answered: “This is the interview. Do you want the job or not?” Again, I answered in the affirmative. Then, he told me what my salary was going to be—and, disappointingly, it was going to be a huge pay cut. I politely thanked him for his interest in me but told him that I could not move my family to Virginia for that kind of pay. He then mumbled something about how he could not understand why I would want to work anywhere else. We ended the conversation, but the very next day, he left a message for me through my wife. He told my wife: “Tell your husband we will meet his price.” Although he could have conveniently moved on to the next applicant, he thought enough of me to take the time to talk to the Group Director about me so that I could start at step 10 instead of step 1. While the step 10 salary was still a pay cut, we could live with it, so my wife and I decided that I should accept the offer. Indeed, but for my SPE’s interest in me and his persistence, I would have had a different career path. He is truly an 은인, and I owe him everything for what I am today.

As for the APJ job, a former mentor in one of my detail assignments and Judge Pak were already on the Board. They kept me apprised of any job announcements.

The special day when Rom and his patent examiner colleagues were sworn in as attorneys in Richmond, VA.

Q: How did you decide to transition from being a Patent Examiner to an Administrative Patent Judge (APJ)?

By GS-11, I was an established examiner and would have been satisfied to spend the rest of my career examining olefin polymerization cases. But my SPE, who was a lawyer and Judge Chung Pak, who was also an examiner at the time, encouraged me to apply to law school. In our examining group, the Director and most of the SPEs had law degrees, and many young examiners in the art unit either had law degrees or went to law school in the evenings. In fact, two of my fellow art unit members later joined me at the Board. As an examiner, I wrote numerous answers (about one or two every month), and enjoyed reading the decisions I got back from the Board, imagining that I might have the opportunity someday to write such well-written decisions. To get to the Board, however, I needed legal experience. So, after passing the bar, I applied for and accepted a GS-15 Legal Advisor position in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Patent Policy and Projects. There, I had the opportunity to study the rules in depth by working on the 1997 Patent Practice and Procedures Rules package. But because my ultimate goal was to get on the Board as an Examiner-In-Chief (EIC, now APJ), I needed more diverse experience and briefly left the Office to work as a patent attorney on the outside. Subsequently, I applied for and was fortunate to be selected as an EIC.

Q: Do you have any memorable cases that you’ve presided over?

I am so fortunate to have been APJ#1 (authoring APJ) on numerous significant cases that matured into important legal precedents—In re Bigio (BRI and same field of endeavor test), In re Klopfenstein (printed publication/public accessibility), In re ICON Health and Fitness (BRI and same or similar purpose test), In re Basell Poliolefine (double patenting), In re Baxter Int’l (PTO operates under a different mode of claim construction and different standard of proof than in district courts)—to name a few. The dissents by Judge Newman in at least a couple of these cases are interesting. Of the cases listed above, my favorite is Bigio (hair brush obvious over toothbrush).

Q: What are some things that you wish you had done differently if you were able to wind the clock back? Any particular time you would like to go back to?

I sometimes wish I had finished my Master’s degree work. I had taken all the courses but never submitted my thesis, although the laboratory research work had been completed. Had I completed the work, I probably would have applied to get on the PhD program, which could have led to other opportunities. Two of my best high school friends from Seoul Foreign School took that path. I just wonder what that alternate universe, which my late mother had wanted me to take, would have turned out to be. Overall, however, I am satisfied with the choices I have made.

Q: After your retirement from the USPTO as a PTAB judge, you have been a partner at a private law firm. How did you decide to retire and start a new chapter as a partner?

I had always planned to retire from the PTAB after 30 years of federal service. For years, my partners at the firm, who are close friends, had tried to persuade me to join them, but I had refused, arguing that I needed to put in my 30 years so that I can get my pension. (They snickered at me when I had told them what my pension would be.) I just thought the 30-years point was a good time to go out and do other things. I am proud and honored to have served as an APJ at the Board.

As a side note, it will be interesting what the Supreme Court will do with the Board in Arthrex. To my knowledge, and as Justice Kavanaugh pointed out, the PTAB is the only tribunal in which judges within an agency exercise significant decision-making authority without oversight as to the decision.

Q: Do you have any advice for anyone who may be considering or transitioning into a new position or career? Particularly in their later years?

Keep doing what you are doing if you are completely satisfied in your job. The PTO offers unparalleled benefits, flexibility, and security. In these uncertain times, it would be unwise to make a career change or transition unless you have something lined up and have put in enough years to survive on a pension and your savings in case things go sour.

A selfie of Rom and his KAIPO member friends. From left to right: Patent Examiner Tae Ho Yoon, APJ Romulo Delmendo (ret.), and Quality Reviewer Do Hyun Yoo.

Q: Do you remember how you first met a Korean American colleague at the USPTO? Can you share your memory of any Korean-American community at the USPTO when you first joined?

Yes, the first Korean American I met was Mr. Christopher Shin, now a senior examiner who had been hired by an SPE who later became my Chief at the Board. Mr. Shin and I were in the same PEIT class. Mr. Shin came to our condo for dinner at least a couple of times, and we even attended his wedding in Long Island. I think we leaned on each other at the time because we had both moved down from the NY/NJ area. Then, I met Ms. Kay Kim, who later became Director of Quality Review when it operated independently from the examining corps. She was a superstar biotech examiner. Around the same time, I also met Mr. Yong Lee (who has left the PTO) in Crystal Plaza 2. Mr. Lee introduced me to Mr. Tae Ho Yoon, who is a Primary Examiner in TC1700. Mr. Shin introduced me to Mr. Do Hyun Yoo, who is now in Quality Review. I have had monthly/quarterly lunches/dinners with Mr. Yoon and Mr. Yoo for nearly 30 years (and more recently also Mr. Jung Ho Kim of TC 2800), although this tradition has been suspended since Covid. Later, I met Judge Pak when he was an examiner. Judge Pak and I served on the Board together for 18 years. I have also had the pleasure of working with another outstanding Korean American APJ—APJ Daniel Song on many important appeals (including an inter partes appeal involving a Callaway golf ball).
Also, I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Patrick Lee (formerly an examiner in TC 2800) when he served on a detail at the Board.

Q: What is something that the KAIPO members may not know about you?

My favorite food is kimchee chiggae. Of course, having been influenced by my mom’s Jeonju style cooking, I am partial to Korean food compared to my father’s Filipino adobo, which is good but not as good as my mom’s kimchee chiggae.

Q: What is one of your mottos or principles that you abided by in order to stay focused and motivated every day and out?

I reminded myself that what I did at the PTO was important. I tried to be fair in my decision-making, always placing myself in the applicant’s, the appellant’s, or examiner’s shoes. The most satisfying compliment I ever received in my career was a phone call from an inventor many years after I had rejected most of his claims—it had even gone up to the Board at one point. He called to thank me for what I had done, because his patent had held up in litigation and licensing. He told me that all the issues that I had raised during examination made everything proceed smoothly.

At the Board, I was humbled and overjoyed whenever the Court said that we did a nice job or when a colleague thanked me for providing a case citation that fit the situation. It was these little things—not money or high performance ratings—that motivated me to give the best in every case. I failed many times, but overall, I think my approach worked. By giving your best, your colleagues take note and that is how respect is earned.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for your colleagues at the USPTO?

What you are doing makes a difference, and you are the public’s gatekeeper. As Judge Newman said in Blacklight v. Rogan, the issuance of sound patents is critical to our Nation. I wish you continued success in your future endeavors.

Get to Know Series Konnect

Get to Know… Harold Pyon!

Harold Pyon is a KAIPO member who retired in Dec 2020 after serving at the USPTO for 35 years.

Harold and his colleague on one fine day working at the USPTO.

Q: Tell us about your background.

I immigrated to the US in 1969 after finishing middle school in Korea. My father came to the US before the rest of my family did, and we have been in the Washington DC area since. I went to Wakefield High School where there were only three Korean students at the time, and I joined the Army after graduating from my high school. After serving in the Army as a Vietnam War veteran, I was supported by the G.I. Bill to receive my Bachelor’s in Chemistry at the Virginia Commonwealth University, and then completed my Master’s in Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia. I also received a Graduate Certificate in Advance Public Management from the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and attended the Juris Masters Certificate Program at the George Washington Law School while working at the USPTO.

Q: When did you join the USPTO and how did you learn about the career as a patent examiner?

After getting my Master’s, I worked for a pharmaceutical company named E.R. Squibb & Sons in North Carolina as a Technical Service Manager. But when the company was merged with the pharmaceutical company called Bristol-Myers, I was asked to relocate to England. Since I wanted to stay close to my family, I decided to quit and move back to Washington DC. One day after moving back home, I was working out at a gym and met a gym mate who suggested that I apply to be a patent examiner at the USPTO. I honestly was not familiar with patents and did not know that the USPTO existed at the time! But I applied and joined the USPTO in 1985, began learning about patent prosecution, and improved a lot in my writing skills during the first two years.

Harold searching through the file cabinets for a prior art back in 1986.

Q: What are some noticeable differences in patent examining process or the USPTO between 35 years ago and now?

As some of you may have heard, back in the days, examiners physically lined up at their SPE’s office for approval of each case, hand off the approved rejections or allowances to a typewriter, wait about a week, and double check on the typewriting before mailing off to the applicants. Nowadays, we no longer have this process. I also observed the transformation of prior art searching from physically searching in shoe boxes to digitally on EAST, WEST, and APS (Automation Patent Search).

Q: What is one of your mottos or principles that you abided by in order to stay focused and motivated every day and out?

I always ask myself: how can I be a better examiner? I have long been striving to be better, and I have been able to do so thanks to very helpful colleagues around me. Also, whenever I can be a help, I dedicate to help others.

Q: Do you have any memorable patents that you’ve allowed?

Before becoming a SPE, I examined in the chemical arts, and a memorable patent that I examined was the urine pregnancy test. It was novel at the time and required a very involved examination: its 1.131 declaration involved consideration from my SPE and director at the time. Although it may not sound so novel now, I am proud of having examined it.

Harold at a USPTO Holiday Party at the beginning of his USPTO career.

Q: What are some of the things that you wish you had done differently if you were able to wind the clock back?  Any particular time you would like to go back to?

I don’t know if there’s a particular time I’d go back to, but looking back, I would’ve put more efforts into networking and helping other, if I could go back. I realized that helping others certainly helped me learn and grow! I hope everyone helps and be kind to each other as much as they can.

Q: We learned that you were involved in founding APANET. Can you share your story about the foundation, and give any warm advice to KAIPO leadership?

When other APANET co-founders and I decided to establish APANET, there were only three affinity groups at the time at the USPTO: POPA, OCR, and SPECO. We wanted to find an affinity group to represent and support the growing number of examiners with Asian background or any interest in the Asian culture. We started APANET with about 100 members, and as you may already be aware, we observed APANET grow to where it now has near 900 members and become the largest single Government Agency Affinity group in the country. We cannot be more proud! Based on my experience as a founder and leader in APANET, my warm advice to the KAIPO leadership is to be open and embrace every member. Remember that KAIPO cannot survive without its members.

Q: What are your plans for the next chapter of your life?

I plan to help the local Asian American communities. As I have found APANET and been with KAIPO, I want to be active in the Asian American community. I may be on the news in the next few years, so be sure to be on the lookout 🙂

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for your colleagues at the USPTO?

As I emphasized earlier, help and be kind to each other. Especially during this unprecedented time. We are all going through this unprecedented time together. Helping others means helping yourself to learn and grow. Keep that in mind!

Community Day Get to Know Series Konnect

Get to Know… James Lee!

James J. Lee is KAIPO’s Secretary in 2020, and a new SPE in TC3600.

James Lee (second from left) with Director Andrei Iancu, Commissioner Drew Hirshfeld, and President of AIPLA Sheldon Klein at 2019 AIPLA Award Ceremony.

Q: Tell us about your background. (i.e., Where is your hometown? If you immigrated to the US, how were your first several years in the US?)

I have a unique background in that I have moved between countries and across different states almost every four to five years since I was born.  My birthplace is New Jersey which is where my father was working overseas at the time.  My family moved back to Korea when I was about four years old and I spent most of my youth in Korea.  Seoul is where I still consider to be my hometown and I try to visit every year.  When I was about to enter my Middle school in Korea our family had yet another opportunity to live in another country, and our destination at that time was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I have great memories living in foreign country and especially befriending international students from all around the world.  After four years in Kuala Lumpur, my parents moved back to Korea once again, but this time I decided to study abroad in United States with the support of my family.  I moved to Connecticut for High school, New York for college, and then to Rhode Island and Massachusetts for my first job out of college.  I am currently living in Northern Virginia with a family of my own. 

Q: How did you learn about the patent examining career at the USPTO? When did you begin your career at the USPTO?

I started my career at the USPTO in July 2012.  Prior to that I was an engineer at Raytheon in the Greater Boston area.  I remember chatting with a senior engineer in the lab and asking him about the patent plaque he had on his office wall.  Many months after that conversation, I randomly googled “patent” and learned about USPTO and the career as a patent examiner.  Living near the capital of United States was on my bucket list at the time and I was intrigued by the four months training offered by the Patent Training Academy so I decided to apply and give it a go. 

Q: What opportunities or experiences enriched your career as a Junior or Primary Examiner? How did they help?

As a junior examiner, I wanted to help out the Art Unit and at the same time do something in addition to examining patents.  My supervisor gave me an opportunity to serve as a classifier for my Art Unit and review the USPC symbol put on applications by the contractors prior to the applications being docketed to the examiners.  Over time, I got to initiate and respond to transfer inquiries and also had multiple opportunities to coach other classifiers.  The experience I gained from these opportunities led me to work on the CPC Cross Walk project in 2015 and I assisted my Art Unit as a CPC Quality Nominee ever since.  After becoming a primary examiner in 2017, I served on a detail to the Office of International Cooperation as a Classification Quality Specialist and had a unique chance to meet delegates from IP5 Offices and also travel to Korea to give training to a group of examiners and contractors at KIPO.  Looking back, it is quite amazing to see what how a small contribution I made as a junior examiner has led me to an opportunity to engage with the international IP community.  

Q: Congratulations on recently becoming a SPE! What inspired you to become a Supervisory Patent Examiner (SPE)?

Thank you!  I am very excited and I feel very fortunate to be serving as a SPE.  Quite frankly, I did not have a particular goal set in mind to become a supervisor when I was a junior examiner or even when I became a primary examiner.  My number one goal has always been to stay engaged with the changes going on at the Office and to stay connected with the people.  These two goals seem to have aligned well with the duties and responsibilities of a supervisor and I naturally gravitated towards pursuing related roles such as Training Assistant or GS-14 Trainer to gain experience working with the people.  I enjoyed developing people professionally and more importantly establishing good working relationships and trust while doing so.  I felt that I was ready to pursue the next step at the time and I am glad that I took the leap.   

Q: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for fellow Examiners who seek to grow professionally and advance in their career?

There will be times when small or big opportunities come your way during your career at the Office.  Always be ready to seize those opportunities and rise to the occasion.  Stepping out of your comfort zone and taking up the challenges that are of unfamiliar ground to you will help you expand your boundaries and gain new perspectives.  But most importantly, have a positive mindset and enjoy the experience!

Q: What does KAIPO mean to you?

KAIPO is very special to me because it was found on the basis of the common mission, vision, and value I shared with the leaders of KAIPO.  We all envisioned KAIPO serving as a community where people can connect, share ideas, have fun and grow together as professionals.  I see great potentials in what the members can gain from KAIPO and more importantly how the members can serve and help others through KAIPO.  I hope we can all share the excitement and anticipation for the legacy that we are carrying and passing on to the next generation of leaders and members of KAIPO.

Q: What is something that the KAIPO members may not know about you?

Instead of giving it away here, let’s get connected and get to know each other.  That’s what KAIPO is all about!  We will be introducing an online platform and offering virtual events throughout the year so come join us and get to know our members.