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Patent IG alleges high-level nepotism attempt

Jul. 11, 2014 - 05:24PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

A top-ranking United States Patent and Trademark Office official pressured her employees to hire the boyfriend of a family member who ranked near last in candidates, according to a July 8 report by the Commerce Department inspector general.

Deborah Cohn, the commissioner for trademarks at the USPTO, pushed for the agency to interview him after he was passed over for an in-person interview for trademark attorney adviser and then for the agency to hire him after ranking 74 out of 75 interviewed applicants, according to the report.

After managers at the agency passed him over for the vacant positions, Cohn opened up a new vacancy and recommended to a manager that they hire the boyfriend despite having no previous trademark experience according to the report.

New attorney advisers at the USPTO make $62,000 to $82,000 per year, according to USAJobs.gov.

Cohn violated various federal regulations prohibiting her from using her public office for private gain, according to the inspector general, by using her power to financially benefit the boyfriend of her relative.

“We concluded that Commissioner Cohn’s conduct was tantamount to creating a new attorney adviser position specifically for the Applicant,” the report said. The IG added that her conduct put pressure on employees to hire the boyfriend and unethical as well.

But the IG noted that Cohn’s efforts to hire someone she knew closely “appears to be commonplace” at the USPTO and that many managers lacked understanding of federal hiring rules regarding favoritism.

The IG recommended the agency take disciplinary action against Cohn, according to the report.

The IG also recommended the USPTO develop a process to ensure that all candidates are treated equally, such as by banning recommendations unless requested by the hiring manager or by forcing employees with personal relationships to recuse themselves from the process. USPTO should also make sure that commissioners and other employees can not require an applicant be interviewed for a job if they did not meet the minimum standards.

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