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Patently outrageous

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board squandered at least $5.09 million in taxpayer money on paralegals who did anything but their jobs. Yet what's more appalling is that the Commerce Department inspector general's report on this scandal recommends no firings or legal action.

The report says “substantial, pervasive waste ... endured for more than four years,” beginning in 2010. Supposedly working from home, board paralegals were paid for 50 to 75 hours of “non-production time” per 80-hour pay period.

They also received annual performance bonuses worth thousands of dollars — for watching TV, listening to radio, web-surfing, emailing, using social media and online shopping sites, exercising, doing household chores, reading and doing volunteer work. Meanwhile, paralegals in the appeals board office were reading e-books.

The patent board, awaiting the end of a hiring freeze that kept it from adding judges, ignored such slacking by a paralegal staff it had expanded to help clear a backlog averaging 21,000 cases annually. Only when the IG's office became involved did the board take action.

The report recommends recovering the bonuses. But that's far short of full accountability. Taxpayers deserve to see those who issued and collected unearned paychecks and bonuses face firings and legal action — fitting consequences for their outrageous misconduct.

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