John K. Borchardt (Summer 2012)
The overhaul of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) - mandated by last September's passage of the America Invents Act - is aimed at promoting innovation. One statute of the new law requires the USPTO to establish at least three branch offices around the country in addition to the main facility in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The first will open in Detroit in July 2012 with two more satellite offices scheduled to open in 2013.
Creating branch offices is part of a broad effort to speed up the nearly three-year-long patent application process, which encourages face-to-face meetings between inventors and USPTO patent examiners. Regional patent offices could reduce the inconvenience and travel cost of these meetings, particularly for small firms and independent inventors with limited financial and time resources.
Why does speeding up the patent application review and approval process matter? Owning a patent is often an important step in commercializing a newly invented product or process. Accelerating the patent application process will enable inventors to bring their products to market sooner. Additionally, according to Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos, branch offices will also facilitate the hiring and retention of patent professionals.
USPTO-Detroit is expected to create more than 100 high-paying, high-skill jobs in its first year and boost the area's innovation economy. More than half these positions should be filled by the end of summer. The Detroit office will be located in 31,000 square feet of rented office space. The building at 300 River Place was the former home of drug company Parke-Davis Laboratories and the Stroh Brewery's headquarters. Remodeling work has already begun. The office will be named the Elijah J. McCoy United States Patent and Trademark Office, after a nineteenth century African-American inventor.
Detroit had to meet a variety of criteria to land the first branch office. It already has a high percentage of scientists and engineers in the work force; provides access to major research institutions, particularly leading universities; and supports a high volume of patenting activity, with significant numbers of patent agents and attorneys already located in the area.
According to Azam Khan, USPTO Deputy Chief of Staff, work at the Detroit office initially will focus on patent applications with mechanical and electrical engineering applications.
Other Branch Offices
Lawmakers from California to Massachusetts are competing for the other two regional offices. They are hoping the USPTO branch offices will create hundreds of high-paying jobs, generate millions of dollars in economic activity, and attract technology companies, law offices, and other ancillary businesses to areas where the branch offices are located. Moreover, by having regional offices in multiple congressional districts, the USPTO may receive broader congressional funding support, which could also accelerate the patent application examination process.
Bruce Katz, a vice president of the Brookings Institution, notes that the ability to innovate is critical in enabling cities to grow their economies in the wake of the Great Recession. What Katz calls a "strong innovation ecosystem" facilitates the development of new products and production processes. The USPTO branch offices can become part of this innovation ecosystem.