The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is interested in gathering information from the public on potential locations for future USPTO satellite offices and earlier today published a Federal Register Notice announcing the comment period. The USPTO is required to establish satellite offices, subject to available resources, under Section 23 of the America Invents Act (AIA). In fact, as long as funding exists, it is the plan of the Patent Office to establish at least two more satellite offices in addition to the one slated for Detroit over the next three years.
The USPTO sees the establishment of satellite offices as an important component of their continued efforts to recruit and retain a highly skilled workforce, reduce patent application pendency and improve quality, and enhance communication between the USPTO and the patent applicant community. It is easy to understand why satellite offices would enhance efforts to recruit and retain patent examiners, after all there is a limited pool of technically sophisticated applicants and employees willing to locate in Northern Virginia and endure the ridiculous traffic, among other things. Thus, satellite offices should make a position as a patent examiner more attractive, at least if locations such as Denver or California are considered, as they should be.
It is also easy to see how having satellite offices will improve outreach, particularly if the USPTO locates examiners in clusters near to where much of a particularly technology is active, which is anticipated. But will satellite offices reduce the pendency and improve quality? That is more of a stretch, at least at first glance. One of the problems the USPTO has is that its beautiful new campus in Alexandria, Virginia was inadequately small the day it opened just a few years ago. Having more work space for examiners would allow for greater mentoring and monitoring. I wouldn’t expect an overnight bump in quality or reduction in pendency due to satellite offices, but it certainly will let the agency scale its growth. Patents are more popular now than ever and it is about time the USPTO has a plan to keep pace. Now if Congress will only let them have the funds to operate properly.
Indeed, all of this may only be a pipe dream because while Section 23 of the America Invents Act requires the USPTO to establish satellite offices the mandate only kicks in if there are available resources. Congress has not been known to give the USPTO enough resources to do what needs to be done at one location, let alone at up to 3 other locations. Budgetary issues have already postponed the opening of the Detroit, Michigan satellite office one.
The opening of the USPTO satellite office planned for Detroit, Michigan was postponed when the USPTO announced severe austerity measures to keep the lights on and the agency functioning back in April of this year. Current plans, which may be rather optimistic given the PTO budgetary issues have hardly resolved, have the USPTO scheduled to open its Detroit facility in the second half of 2012. If and when the Detroit satellite office becomes a reality it is expected to create more than 100 high-paying, high-skill jobs in its first year of operation.
In choosing Detroit, the USPTO considered multiple cities and sought a location where the agency could best recruit and retain patent examiners and increase applicant outreach. The criteria included, but was not limited to: occupational clusters; number of patent attorneys and agents currently in the region; number of patent applications by state; access to universities with strong engineering programs; public transportation infrastructure and proximate location to a major airport; the ability to share facilities with other established governmental operations; the ability to support departmental objectives, including CommerceConnect, and increase collaborations among Commerce bureaus; and various economic factors, including cost of living and unemployment rates of the city.
The Federal Register Notice explains that those submitting comments are encouraged to keep in mind the USPTO’s purposes of establishing satellite offices, which include:
- Increase outreach activities to better connect patent filers and innovators with the USPTO, including the number of patent filings and grants by the city/region as well as other information that provides insight into the region’s innovation activity;
- Enhance patent examiner retention, including quality of life indicators such as average household income, cost of living factors, and other factors related to employee retention;
- Improve recruitment of patent examiners, including data on employment rates and other economic factors in the area, science and technology professionals, as well as legal professionals in the workforce and other related information;
- Decrease the number of patent applications awaiting examination; and
- Improve the quality of patent examination.
Specific information the PTO identified as “useful in determining future locations” includes:
- Available office space;
- The presence of universities with strong engineering programs;
- The presence of research facilities;
- The economic impact to the region and any other economic factors.
Comments are also invited to include information on additional factors the USPTO should consider in comparing regions.
“Establishing satellite offices in geographically diverse areas of the country will allow the agency to better recruit and retain talented patent professionals and allow the agency to better interact with the applicant community,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “We are committed to conducting a transparent selection process based on objective criteria, and with input from stakeholders around the country.”
Written comments are requested to be submitted on or before January 30, 2012, and no public hearing will be held.
Those interested in submitting comments are encourage to do so by e-mail, sending comments to the USPTO at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notwithstanding the preference for electronic comment, old-fashion written comments may also be submitted by postal mail addressed to: Azam Khan, Deputy Chief of Staff, United States Patent and Trademark Office, Mail Stop Office of Under Secretary and Director, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA, 22313–1450.