In evaluating where to locate any new satellite offices the USPTO has set forth certain criteria that those submitting comments should keep in mind. The factors specifically identified in the Federal Register Notice are: (1) Will the location increase outreach activities to better connect patent filers and innovators with the USPTO? (2) Will the location enhance patent examiner retention and provide a strong quality of life; (3) Will the location improve recruitment of patent examiners; (4) Will the location decrease the number of patent applications; (5) Will the location improve quality of patent examination; (6) Does the location have available office space; (7) Are there universities with strong engineering programs nearby? (8) Are there research facilities nearby? (9) Will there be a positive economic impact to the region?
If you look at the criteria it is hard to understand why Detroit was selected. Detroit doesn’t have a reputation as a particularly livable city, so will it really help retain and recruit examiners? Certainly there will be a positive economic impact, but that is because of the mass exodus of people and businesses. It seems that there were some other considerations at play, and I can’t help but notice that traditionally blue Michigan is a swing state in 2012. With this in mind, I have a hunch that politics will play a big part of the awarding of satellite patent offices. Therefore, I am going to add a tenth criteria – From a purely political standpoint does the location serve a purpose?
Before I go any further I should also explain my own selection modifications, shall we say. I am going to completely discount and not even consider whether the location will improve the quality of patent examination. Likewise, I will completely ignore whether the location will decrease the number of patent applications. Any location is equally capable of doing either, and any location is equally capable of failing at both. The mere fact that there will be more patent examiners, regardless of where they are placed, will help decrease the backlog. Patent quality will require improved training, improved mentoring and quality review.
So with no further ado, here are the top 10 locations that the USPTO should have on their radar screen.
10. Orange County California
I realize that this suggestion has absolutely no chance to succeed, but if you are really looking for quality of life for the professional market it is hard to beat Orange County California. Between Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach the county boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Traffic anywhere in California can be bad, but Orange County doesn’t have the issues of Los Angeles. There is great infrastructure, and the tourist season is shorter than you think it might be and there are economical inland locations like Costa Mesa and Irvine that could support office space and high end but affordable professional housing. Additionally, when tourists are not in town getting around even prime beach locations isn’t very difficult. Air travel into John Wayne Airport (Santa Ana) is extremely easy. You can also get cheap Jet Blue flights into Long Beach, which is only about 30 minutes from most Orange County locations. Finally, the University of California – Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and the University of California – Irvine are all identified by The Center for Measuring University Performance (CMUP) as top tier American Research Universities. See Top American Research Universities.
9. Houston, Texas (or somewhere in Texas)
I am not particularly a big fan of Houston, Texas, simply because it is so darn hot! As you may have noticed, I am a rather big guy and I just don’t handle the heat, or humidity, well. Notwithstanding, Houston, or some Texas location, makes a lot of sense for several reasons. First, if you want to divide up the country you have an Office on the East Coast in DC, there will be one in the North-Center in Detroit, and likely one somewhere out west. That leaves a Southern location open. With the importance of energy technologies for our future a location in the heart of American energy country makes perfect sense. Of course, if Presidential politics come into play there will be no Texas location. The last time Texas voted for a Democrat was in 1976 when Carter defeated Ford. This time around it will be about as red as a state can get. Notwithstanding, some 59 companies in the Fortune 1000 are headquartered in Houston, Texas, and only New York and Chicago have more Fortune 500 company headquarters than Houston. See Houston.org. With a low tax burden, growing economy and the University of Texas – Austin and Texas A&M University such strong research institutions you cannot discount a Texas location. If Texas doesn’t win out it will be because there isn’t a single, clear, no-brainer location.
8. Melbourne, Florida
Alright, you caught me. Our firm has an office in Melbourne, Florida, hence me singling out the community. Having acknowledged this bias, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Florida will have one or more locations on any short list. It will once again be a swing State in the 2012 elections, and if if economic impact is going to be factored into the next selection Florida has to be high on the list. We all know that the housing meltdown has lead to our current economic crisis for a number of reasons, and Florida has been one of the epicenters. With an economy that is largely based on tourism, good, high-paying government jobs for patent examiners could have a real and immediate impact if the right small to mid-size community is selected. With so much of the now largely defunct space program being centered on the Eastern Shore of Florida — the Space Coast — just minutes away from Melbourne, there is a talented pool of engineers available. Florida also has the advantage of being a likely swing state in the 2012 Presidential race, as it has been in recent Presidential elections. Never under estimate the desire of politicians to do favors for constituencies they need!
7. Syracuse, New York
Again, perhaps I am a little biased. I lived in Syracuse for 5 years, really liked it and miss it for a variety of reasons. For a number of reasons Syracuse fits the bill of what the Patent Office is looking for. It is most certainly a college town, with the University of Syracuse having a dominant footprint. About 45 minutes away, however, is Ithaca, New York, which is home to Cornell University, which has quite an advanced technology licensing program and is a top tier American research university according to CMUP. Scattered all around Central New York are other, smaller colleges and universities. Over the last 10 to 15 years Syracuse has been hit hard by layoffs of auto workers and then layoffs at Carrier. As a small, livable city a Patent Office outpost there could help the local economy. If you like snow Syracuse and Central NY get plenty, and if you are a sports fan there is very affordable Triple A baseball (Syracuse Chiefs), AHL hockey (Syracuse Crunch) and Syracuse University Basketball. It is also easy to get to and from the Syracuse Airport, although there are admittedly not as many direct flights as you might like.
6. Denver Colorado
Denver was reportedly on the short list to receive the Detroit satellite office location, so it would make sense that they would also be on any new short list as well. Originally I had Denver as high as #2 on this list, but I can just make much better arguments for other locations. If I weren’t a “Syracuse homer” and hail from a firm that has a Melbourne, Florida location, I would likely be tempted to have Denver at #8, but they were on the short list last time ahead of many places. I don’t realistically think much will change to knock them down much from top consideration. Add the fact that it looks like Colorado will be an important swing state in the 2012 Presidential Elections and you need to keep your eye on Mile High. While other locations, probably make more sense, if the Presidential politics factor influences the selection the extremely safe (and blue) electoral votes of California might make purple Colorado electoral votes look quite appealing.
5. Madison, Wisconsin
There is a great deal of research ongoing at the University of Wisconsin, which boasts that it is one of the premiere research institutions in the world. There are many that could lay claim to that, but the University of Wisconsin would likely be on the short list of many for that distinction, just look at the long list of research centers and programs. The University of Wisconsin has a long history in technology transfer, and was among the key players behind the scenes working with Senator Birch Bayh (ret.) to get the landmark Bayh-Dole legislation passed. Wisconsin is also going to be an important swing state in the 2012 Presidential election. Many in the labor movement have been critical of President Obama not coming to the defense of union rights, which are under attack in many places, but specifically in Wisconsin. Placing a satellite patent office near one of the most prolific Universities in the U.S., a State University no less, has a lot of appeal.
4. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago is obviously one of the most blue locations in the country, and it is located in a reliably blue state, so there will be no Presidential election 2012 angle here. It is, however, famously where President Barack Obama started his political career. A patent office located in Chicago under his watch would almost certainly eventually have its building named after him. But add to the vanity and pay-back angle the fact that the University of Chicago is one of the top research universities in the U.S. Also add the fact that the greater Chicago area is home to two National Laboratories (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory), something that only Albuquerque, New Mexico and Northern California can match. Furthermore, while not the easiest airports to get to and from, there are two major airports in Chicago — O’hare and Midway — so it is always easy to get from wherever you are to Chicago.
3. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque is home to the University of New Mexico, which over the last generation has jumped head first into technology transfer and cutting edge research. I have personally toured the University and its laboratories and I came away extremely impressed at what they are building, largely under the radar. Albuquerque is also home to Sandia National Laboratory, and Intel has a large presence there as well. Los Alamos National Laboratory is also in New Mexico and just 2 hours from Albuquerque. Given that I fly a lot — and far more than I would like — getting into and out of airports is a big consideration for me. Of all the airports I have flown into and out of Albuquerque International is easily one of the most convenient and easy locations to jet into and out of. Being located in the Southwest that means that Southwest Airlines has lots of cheap flights into and out of Albuquerque from other Western States. Additionally, Bloomberg identified Albuquerque as 15th in the top 50 cities in the U.S., saying this: “New Mexico’s largest city is a picturesque and sunny place to live. The schools are great, unemployment is low, and Albuquerque has lots of park acres per person.”
2. San Diego, California
If I were a betting man, which I am, I would say that it is virtually guaranteed that at least one of the satellite patent offices will be located in California. Anyone that has ever listened to ESPN radio knows that one of the things that hosts like to frequently do is take one or two players or teams and then give the person they are betting with take the field. A popular bet used to be take Tiger to win the tournament and give the sap betting you the rest of the field. With that in mind I would take California and give you the rest of the country and feel pretty good about the bet. The question is where in California? San Diego is one of two locations with the best chance, the other, which appears at #1 on the list, is Silicon Valley. San Diego county is represented by Congressman Darryl Issa (R-CA), who is on committees with USPTO oversight and has been lobbying publicly for the USPTO to consider a location in his district. Aside from being in beautiful San Diego, California, there is the University of California – San Diego, which is one of the top American Research Universities according to CMUP, not to mention many military installations and a first class international airport.
1. Northern California
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) represents Silicon Valley and has committee jurisdiction over the USPTO. During hearings at which Director Kappos has testified she has, from time to time, mentioned that Northern California would love to be a location for a satellite patent office. With the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives she doesn’t have quite the “juice” she would have if the speaker’s gavel were held by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is from nearby San Francisco, but Lofgren is a long-time member of the House and with all the technology companies in Silicon Valley it just makes too much sense not to happen. Also present in Northern California is the highest density of National Laboratories — Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory. Furthermore, CMUP identifies Stanford University, University of California – Berkeley and the University of California – Davis as top 25 American Research Universities. Finally, there are places in Northern California, such as San Jose, CA for example, that could certainly use the economic shot in the arm that a branch office of the USPTO could provide.
If merit means anything one of the satellite patent offices will be somewhere in Northern California. The only thing holding this prediction back from being slam-dunk easy is the fact that there is little political benefit to handing out government goodies to blue California, particularly the bluest of blue parts of California. Nevertheless, perhaps due to an over abundance of optimism or because I am naive, I think merit will prevail in at least one of the two remaining picks and Northern California will win out.
If Northern California does get one location that should more or less eliminate any other California location given that flights to and from parts of California to other parts of California are plentiful and cheap. It probably also rules out another western location, but if merit also plays into the equation for the second location you would be hard pressed to find another location that offers as much as Albuquerque, New Mexico. But given Florida’s enormous political importance and the new importance of Colorado you cannot rule out a Florida or Denver location.