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Detroit to get first U.S. patent satellite office

The first satellite office of the United States Patent and Trademark Office is set to open in Detroit in early spring 2011, opening up jobs for 100 patent examiners plus support staff.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made the announcement today in a conference call. He was joined by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and David Kappos, Commerce’s undersecretary for intellectual property and director of the patent office.
The office will monitor the results of the Detroit office in preparation for more regional offices around the country.
“Perhaps two more will open within a year after Detroit,” Locke said.
The decision on the location has not been made, Kappos said. The Patent Office is planning to sign an occupancy agreement this month, with a lease to follow in February. Job offers would start going out soon after that in preparation for an early spring or possibly late winter opening, he said.
The new office and the hiring of 100 examiners will give patent applicants more time to meet for examiner interviews and in turn speed up the patent approval process.
The Patent Office currently has about 710,000 patent applications in its backlog, Kappos said. That’s down from 750,000 at the beginning of the year, amid an increased number of applications, but that’s still not close to being good enough, Locke said.
The goal is to reduce average patent waiting times from three years to one.
Calling the three-year wait time “unacceptable,” Locke compared it to asking a bank for a loan to expand a factory that the applicant won’t have the title to for another three years.
Locke first mentioned the possibility of Detroit getting a patent office in October during a visit to the Detroit Regional Chamber.
The move to set up regional patent offices is also intended to improve recruitment and retention of the patent examiners, who decide which applications get approved. Recruitment is challenging because examiners must possess advanced technical knowledge, a quality that makes them employable elsewhere.
Setting up regional offices will allow the main patent office to no longer ask qualified candidates to move to the Washington, D.C., area.
It also would give the office access to pockets of specialized skilled workers. That’s where Detroit comes in. The region’s abundance of advanced — and unemployed — engineers makes it a perfect fit for the pilot satellite office, Locke, Kappos and Granholm all said.
The Department of Commerce also chose Michigan to set up its first CommerceConnect office. The one-stop access point to all of the department's services for businesses opened in October 2009, and more offices are planned in other regions of the country.
The Pontiac office was a factor in choosing the Detroit area, as was low building costs, access to local research universities and a high number of patent applications coming out of Michigan.
“This city fulfills a number of critical criteria,” Kappos said.
Granholm said the University of Michigan “pushed to have this office come here.”
The presence of schools such as UM and Wayne State University brings diversity to the local technology, said James Stevens, president of the Michigan Intellectual Property Law Association and managing shareholder at Reising Ethington P.C. in Troy.
“Any area has a flavor to its technology,” Stevens said.
He said the hiring of 100 examiners is a serious number. Unlike in past downturns when automotive engineers tended to be untouched, the recent recession has brought layoffs to their doorsteps, as well, he said.
“A lot of them are still in town looking for work,” Stevens said.