Top 10 Locations the PTO Should Consider for Satellite Offices

By Gene Quinn
December 1, 2011

Laguna Beach, CA, or anywhere in Orange County CA, gets my vote!

Just the other day the United States Patent and Trademark Office announced that they were seeking public input regarding where they should open 2 more satellite offices in addition to the one being opened in Detroit, Michigan sometime during 2012. The America Invents Act requires the Patent Office to open satellite locations provided funds are available. The Office sees the establishment of these satellite offices as an important factor in continuing efforts to recruit and retain a highly skilled workforce, reduce patent application pendency and enhance communication between the USPTO and the patent applicant community. But where should they be located?

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 25 Comments comments.

  1. EG December 2, 2011 8:49 am

    Gene,

    How about a vote for the Queen City (aka Cincinnati)? We have a very reasonable cost of living here. And the economy is certainly depressed enough in Ohio, especially in the northeastern portion of the state, but it also isn’t a picnic in the southwestern portion either.

  2. Mark Fearer December 2, 2011 8:50 am

    Nice list. Enjoyed the read and the reasoning. Though probably a reality, I did not care for the political slant. Being a native of Detroit myself and old enough to remember the once booming American auto industry, I understand that decision. I am surprised that Boston did not make your top 10, with their technology companies and universities, not to mention far flung northeast location.

  3. Rick Bulman December 2, 2011 9:16 am

    Not a bad list. I think airports and people who would be visiting these offices should be the biggest consideration.
    Ergo, CA (Silicon Valley), GA (Atlanta), MA (Boston), IL (Chicago), TX (Dallas), PA (Pittsburgh), and CO (Denver).

  4. American Cowboy December 2, 2011 9:55 am

    Move the whole kit and kaboodel to Abilene.

  5. Warren December 2, 2011 9:57 am

    Interesting article, Gene. IMHO I think Chicago would be a good choice but is too close geographically to Detroit–I bet on California and somewhere in the Southwest-ish area (Denver or Texas). But Seattle would be a good West Coast choice, too. BTW, does anybody understand how putting an office in a particular location would *decrease* the number of patent applications? I don’t get it.

  6. Paul F. Morgan December 2, 2011 10:11 am

    This may all be academic, as I doubt if funding will be available for any of these other PTO branch offices in our near future.
    Even if the first, and only definite, pick, of Detrioit, was political, it would not be unreasonable if examination of the numerous patent applications on automobiles, trucks, engines, and their parts or accessories, was to be moved to Detriot, but my understanding is that these branch-offices will not be for specified technologies?
    Also, will panels of the Trial and Appeal Board “ride circuit” for oral arguments at those branch locations from law firms at those locations? I doubt it, and note that many inventors are represented by law firms that are not located where those inventors are located.

  7. Gene Quinn December 2, 2011 1:24 pm

    Paul-

    I have no idea about the Board riding circuit, but I suspect that is unlikely.

    I agree that from a technology standpoint Detroit makes sense, as you suggest. You are also (of course) correct about inventors and law firms not being from technology centers geographically. For me that means that the biggest criteria ought to be recruitment of high quality patent examiners, and quality of life has to play a big part of that. Maybe I am just getting old and understand the importance of being in a good location. If you work hard you want to play hard in the limited time available. I don’t see Detroit as fitting the recruitment bill, although there are certainly a lot of out of work folks there.

    It will be interesting to see what develops.

    -Gene

  8. Gene Quinn December 2, 2011 1:26 pm

    Warren-

    When thinking about what I wrote earlier today I realized I didn’t mention the close proximity of Chicago to Detroit. Chicago would be a great location, but probably not in the cards because of its proximity to Detroit.

    Likewise, as I have been chatting on Twitter about, the Research Triangle would make a lot of sense, but I just think it is too close to DC. I don’t see another East or Mid-Atlantic satellite office.

    Boise, Idaho was also suggested. I briefly considered that, but probably didn’t give it as much consideration as I could or should. If I were doing a top 15 list the Research Triangle and Boise would be on the list, but I think a better case can be made for other locations.

    Cheers.

    -Gene

  9. American Cowboy December 2, 2011 2:38 pm

    Paul Morgan makes the point that selection “of Detrioit, was political, it would not be unreasonable if examination of the numerous patent applications on automobiles, trucks, engines, and their parts or accessories, was to be moved to Detriot,”

    My impression is that GM, Ford and Chrysler really don’t value patents. Weren’t they they guys who pooled their patents, essentially cross-licensing each other and thus fostering their oligopoly. Nobody else could start an auto company because they would get shut down by one or the other of the pack of patents, so the patents did not need to be asserted in litigation. Then, the trust-busters told them to quit poolin, but still they did not sue infringers, counting on the their massive bulk. Then the Japanese, Koreans etc. started eating their lunch, but their cultures were so mired in the past that they could not think entrepreneurally and enforce their patents.

    Putting a Patent Office at their convenience seems like a waste.

  10. JohnDarling December 2, 2011 2:47 pm

    Put an office in New Orleans and I’ll go work there.

  11. EG December 2, 2011 3:10 pm

    “Move the whole kit and kaboodel to Abilene.”

    “Put an office in New Orleans and I’ll go work there.”

    AC & JD,

    You made my day! I about feel over laughing about your suggested locations for satellite offices.

  12. JohnDarling December 2, 2011 3:22 pm

    Don’t you think the PTO should be closed during Mardi Gras?

  13. Gene Quinn December 2, 2011 7:34 pm

    Here is what Stephen Nipper – @nipper – said to me via Twitter:

    “@ipwatchdog You should have included Boise on your list. Used to be #2 per capita in patents, with Micron & H-P layoffs…lots of engineers.”

    Republished here with his approval.

  14. Stan E. Delo December 2, 2011 9:16 pm

    Warren-
    After looking at the link Gene provided, I was very pleased to see that the University of Washington was #2 in research activity in 2007, and then the University of California-San Francisco took #2 the following year. I would vote for San Francisco for a northern California office of the USPTO, as it tends to be a wide open sorta town like Seattle, which might perhaps be a little more cosmopolitan than say Silicon Valley. Which city in Silicon valley? After the dot-com bubble burst in the late 90’s or so, I can assure you that there is Plenty of prime office space doing nothing for a living in the Redmond/Bellevue area (on the east side of Lake Washington) iust a short drive over the floating bridges from Seattle, or maybe commute a few days per week from the San Juan Islands into a Seattle office, after you have done all of your bunny slippers research ahead of time. The bunny slippers thing is not my invention, just a passing thing I heard that made a whole lot of sense to me. I think it came from DK, as in perhaps my patent agent Dr. David Kiewit, but I can’t recall for certain.

    Stan~

  15. Suzanne A. Sprunger December 3, 2011 5:24 pm

    I agree with Warren and Stan E. Delo that a satellite patent office in the Seattle area makes a lot of sense, given its location in the NW corner of the country and the local concentration of inventive activity. A Seattle office AND one in California would do quite a bit to support the ‘left’ coast!

  16. Stan E. Delo December 4, 2011 2:29 pm

    I hope this doesn’t seem too off-topic here, but I just got the first e-mail update from the USPTO about their implementation of the America Invents Act so far, and thought some might it of interest. They have a mini-web site just for that now, which you can find @ http://www.uspto.gov/aia_implementation/index.jsp to get an overview, and you can also go to the comments page to make suggestions to the USPTO if you have any.
    http://www.uspto.gov/aia_implementation/comments.jsp The list of topics is quite diverse, but a didn’t see a section for satellite offices.

    They seem to be very interested in hearing from us all, to help them get the AIA implementation *right* the first time, but there are surprisingly few comments as of now, as in only 160 or so since the middle of September. You can subscribe on the center left of either page to receive updates, about once a month it seems.

    If any would like to see their first update, I could send a copy to you offline if you contact me personally. stand@olypen.com

    Best wishes,
    Stan E. Delo
    Port Townsend, WA

  17. helen wu December 4, 2011 10:55 pm

    There are so many IP law firms in Chicago. It would be very convenient for patent prosecutors if PTO set a branch office in Chicago.

  18. American Cowboy December 5, 2011 11:01 am

    What exactly will these branch offices do, and how will it affect our practices?

    Ms. Wu suggests that Chicago practitioners will find it convenient if there is a PTO in Chicago. The only way it is convenient is for those occasions where the practitioner actually needs to be at the PTO, and these days, that is not very often. In-person interviews, Oral hearings at BPAi or whatever they are now, and the TTAB is about all I can think of. The benefit presupposes that the Chicago practitioner’s application will be assigned to examiners and/or boards located in Chicago. So would that mean that each remote office needs to be fully staffed to handle all technologies? If the Chicago practitioner’s application is being examined by a San Diego examiner, then the convenience factor diminishes a bit.

    But if you move the whole kit and kaboodle to Abilene, everyone is happy!

  19. Gene Quinn December 5, 2011 6:30 pm

    AC-

    I’m not sure they will move the whole kit and kaboodle to Abilene, or anywhere for that matter. What you raise is a good point. I do think they plan on clustering examiners, but what can that mean if there will only be 100 or even several hundred in any single location? I think it just makes things easier from recruitment and retention purposes. I’ll be interested to see if the requirement that examiners return to the USPTO for days during a pay period can be satisfied by returning to a satellite location. If yes that would make hoteling far more attractive to people who want to live at various locations around the country.

    -Gene

  20. Daniel Smart December 8, 2011 11:02 am

    Your article provided me with some inspiration and my blog will give you a (quirky) perspective from the other side of the Atlantic that you may find interesting.

    http://thesmarttrademark.blogspot.com/2011/12/location-location-location.html

  21. Gene Quinn December 8, 2011 11:04 am

    Thanks Daniel. Location is certainly a hot button political issue. I guess it is comforting to see that you all on the other side of the pond have to deal with the same type of thing.

    -Gene

  22. Bruce Lev December 27, 2011 11:28 am

    San Diego would seem to be the best choice on your list for all the reasons that you have stated along with the ones you have stated for Orange County, since Orange county is not that far of a drive from San Diego. Northern California is much colder and wetter. If obtaining and retaining examiners is a top priority then just ask any new hire prospect where they would rather live and the answer will be clear.

    I vote for San Diego… : )

    Nice job Gene!

  23. highwayman January 19, 2012 10:14 pm

    Two places that would not only make sense but would be great places to live/work.

    Portland, OR: (west coast office located within striking distance of california inventors and Washington state mega corps), good cost of living, place people would relocate to, local to west coast engineers in the way DC is local to east coast ones (aka, not many engineers graduate in DC but come to DC to PTO)

    Pittsburgh, PA: No brainer here. Pennsylvania Universities and colleges produce more engineers than almost every other state (save CA, NY, and TX). Pittsburgh is the home to High tech computing and robotics (Carnegie Mellon) and advanced medicine UPMC. Housing costs and commercial real estate prices are ideal for the PTO purposes and with so many local engineers who are attached to their home teams and home towns, what young person or established person would not want to come there to work. Prices are low. The arts and cultural scene is unmatched in a city this size. The economy while strong could use a boost and the state is purple so politically it makes sense too. There are unused properties all over town that would serve the PTO. Even google opened a branch in Pittsburgh to lure PA engineers. Like I said no brainer.

  24. SASprunger January 20, 2012 12:11 pm

    I agree with highwayman about Pittsburgh, PA, but I have to say that only one West Coast office located in Portland would *not* be enough.

    If you consider that the West Coast includes Alaska, and perhaps Hawaii also, putting just one office in Portland would be a little like putting one office in Kansas and concluding that since there’s one in the middle, there’s no need for any on the coasts. Much better would be having one office in California and another in the Pacific Northwest, preferably Western Washington. Portland does offer a good quality of life, so perhaps the PNW office could be between Seattle and Portland. The idea would be that an office in that location could serve Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and even parts of Montana, as some of our specialty medical centers do.

    In addition to the West Coast being geographically quite extensive, the PTO is apparently considering the level of innovative activity in its selection of office sites, and there’s enough along the West Coast to justify two offices!