In a conference call this afternoon with reporters Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced that the first Regional Patent Office would be located in Detroit, Michigan and will open at some point during 2011, employing some 100 patent examiners with some additional support staff. Locke explained that as a part of the nationwide workforce initiative of the Obama Administration high paying jobs would be coming to the USPTO Detroit Satellite Office. Locke said that while 100 patent examiners is an appropriate level of staffing initially that number could expand over time if the Regional Patent Office model proves successful. Secretary Locke also explained that the Detroit Satellite Patent Office will be “the first of several Patent Offices we hope to establish around the country.” When pressed during the question and answer phase of the call, Secretary Locke said that perhaps two additional Satellite Patent Offices might open “within the year after Detroit.”
According to Secretary Locke and USPTO Director David Kappos, one of the primary reasons for opening a satellite Patent Office is the fact that there is a finite number of qualified hirers who are willing to relocate to the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, making it difficult to recruit enough qualified patent examiners. Hiring more examiners is a cornerstone of the USPTO effort to reduce the backlog and get to an acceptable level of pendency. According to Secretary Locke, “we want to get down to a 1 year review.”
The physical location of USPTO Detroit has not yet been established. According to Director Kappos, “we are working on that and have been for some time now.” Kappos went on to say that there are several sites in final consideration that are being looked at closely and a final decision will be made soon. Kappos says that the USPTO expects to sign an occupancy agreement by the end of December 2010, sign a lease in February 2011 and begin job postings and accepting resumes either in late winter or spring 2011. All of this is with the goal of bringing on board 100 patent examiners to USPTO Detroit starting in the summer of 2011.
During the conference call I asked whether any existing patent examiners will be relocated to Michigan, whether the examiners hired will primarily focus on automotive technologies and whether there will be any ranking PTO officials assigned to the Detroit office. Director Kappos fielded my questions and explained that the USPTO is primarily interested in hiring new patent examiners from the Detroit area, but is open to considering requests from current patent examiners to be assigned to the USPTO Detroit Office. He went on to say that there are some current examiners from the Detroit area, and they may be interested in relocating.
In terms of technologies represented at the USPTO Detroit, Kappos explained “we hope to bring in examiners in the Detroit Office that map well with the local industry, the automotive industry being one…” Kappos went on to explain that the USPTO will be sensitive to having technologies represented in the USPTO Detroit Office that work well with the indigenous technologies, including new innovations taking shape in the Detroit region.
In terms of management at the USPTO Detroit Offices, Kappos explained: “we will definitely have a management presence there.” He went on to say that they are currently “working on the level of management” appropriate for assignment to the new Detroit Office. Kappos was also keen on giving credit to the patent examiner union for showing leadership on this issue and working with them to make this Detroit Regional Patent Office possible.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm was also on the call, and obviously quite excited about the Department of Commerce selecting the Detroit, Michigan area for the location of the first ever regional Satellite Patent Office. According to Governor Granholm the choice is appropriate because “Michigan ranks 7th in patents issued in the United States, and if Michigan were a country it would rank 9th in the world.” Granholm also explained that the “selection of MI as a satellite office signals that the Midwest, and in particular Michigan is a center for innovation.” She said “for Michigan and Detroit this announcement is a win, win win.”
So why was Detroit picked? According to Director Kappos there were a number of critical criteria that needed to be satisfied, all of which Detroit could satisfy. There are a high number of scientists and engineers present in the Detroit area, representing an attractive work force for the Patent Office. There is also access to leading Universities, a high volume of patent activity and a large number of patent agents and patent attorneys already in the greater Detroit area. Not mentioned on the call today, but previously mentioned by some was the fact that Detroit was hard hit by the economic downturn and unemployment is quite high. Given that Detroit already makes a strong case for location of a Satellite Patent Office, the fact that bringing high paying jobs to an area so afflicted would be a benefit that could not be ignored.
For years I have been writing about the need for Regional Patent Offices, and for years I have pointed to Detroit as the logical choice for all of the aforementioned reasons. It would be foolish to think that 100 high paying patent examiner jobs will be the answer to the economic problems of the Detroit area, but it sure is a nice first step. The fact that this first step also makes business sense is all the more reason to congratulate the Department of Commerce and the United States Patent and Trademark Office for making a sensible decision. A tip of the hat to Locke, Kappos and their respective teams for making this long overdue development a reality.
Obviously, there are a lot of remaining questions to be answered over the days and weeks to come. I am particularly interested in learning more about examiner training, the presence of Supervisory Patent Examiners and a host of other issues. I will be sure to follow up and report back.