Procrastination in the Workplace: Evidence from the U.S. Patent Office

71 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2016 Last revised: 25 Apr 2017

See all articles by Michael Frakes

Michael Frakes

Duke University School of Law

Melissa F. Wasserman

The University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

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Date Written: December 20, 2016

Abstract

Despite much theoretical attention over the concept of procrastination and much exploration of this phenomenon in laboratory settings, there remain few empirical investigations into the practice of procrastination in real world contexts, especially in the workplace. In this paper, we attempt to fill these gaps by exploring procrastination among U.S. patent examiners. We find that nearly half of examiners’ first substantive reports are completed immediately prior to the operable deadlines. Moreover, we find a range of additional empirical markers to support that this “endloading” of reviews results from a model of procrastination rather than various alternative time-consistent models of behavior. In one such approach, we take advantage of the natural experiment afforded by the Patent Office’s staggered implementation of its telecommuting program, a large-scale development that we theorize might exacerbate employee self-control problems due to the ensuing reduction in direct supervision. Supporting the procrastination theory, we estimate an immediate spike in application endloading and other indicia of procrastination upon the onset of telecommuting. Finally, contributing to a growing empirical literature over the efficiency of the patent examination process, we assess the consequences of procrastination for the quality of the reviews completed by the affected examiners. This analysis suggests that the primary harm stemming from procrastination is delay in the ultimate application process, with rushed reviews completed at deadlines resulting in the need for revisions in subsequent rounds of review. Our findings imply that nearly 1/6 of the annual growth in the Agency’s much publicized backlog may be attributable to examiner procrastination.

Keywords: Procrastination, Patents, Patent Office, Backlog, Patent Quality

Suggested Citation

Frakes, Michael and Wasserman, Melissa F., Procrastination in the Workplace: Evidence from the U.S. Patent Office (December 20, 2016). Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2017-15 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2888061 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2888061

Michael Frakes

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Melissa F. Wasserman (Contact Author)

The University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton St
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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