Denver on list of possible satellite patent office locations
Sept 18, 2011
The patent-reform law signed by President Barack Obama on Friday authorizes the government to open at least three patent offices throughout the country — and Denver is considered a finalist for one of them.
As part of a broader effort to speed up a bogged-down patent-approval process, the America Invents Act opens the door for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to broaden its geographic reach to innovators and tap a bigger pool of employment talent.
Denver has long been among a handful of cities vying for a patent office. Last year Detroit was selected for the first such outpost. Colorado appears to be competing primarily with California, Texas, Washington and Utah for one in the next round.
The stakes are high in this struggling economy: a patent office could employ 100 well-paid patent examiners, give a boost to local law firms and attract technology companies to the area.
Supporters of a Denver office point to the metro area’s highly trained technology and scientific workforce, its desirability as a place to live, its reasonable cost of living and its central location.
“Denver, from many different perspectives, is the right location,” said Tom Franklin, a Denver patent attorney who has worked for years to bring a satellite office to Colorado. “My hope is this law becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy in terms of bringing an office to Denver. The language in the law describes Denver perfectly.”
The law states that, in choosing satellite locations where it can best recruit and retain examiners, the patent office “shall consider the availability of scientific and technically knowledgeable personnel in the region from which to draw new patent examiners at minimal recruitment cost.”
If that sounds like it was written by someone promoting a city like Denver — which has plenty of technical talent, a relatively low cost of living and highly regarded quality of life — well, it was. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet had the amendment authorizing satellite offices inserted into the Senate version of the bill, Franklin said.
Franklin, of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, and two other Colorado patent attorneys — Michael Drapkin of Holland & Hart and John Posthumus of Sheridan Ross — helped draft the amendment with others in the business and legal community. The legal trio collectively spent thousands of pro-bono hours and made dozens of trips to Washington to promote the idea of a Denver satellite office.
Those efforts and the involvement of Bennet and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall have placed Denver on the shortlist of cities most often mentioned in the running for the office. Colorado’s entire congressional delegation has gotten involved in the push, as have other political leaders including Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Bill Ritter.
“As a gateway to the West, Colorado is an ideal location for a new office,” Bennet said in a statement Friday. “It is perfectly situated to connect innovators and businesses across the country.”
In addition to creating jobs, Udall said in a statement last week that an office here “would also put our state on the map as a hub for entrepreneurship and attract the startup companies and quality researchers who further spur job growth in our state.”
The Colorado effort suffered a setback in December when the patent agency picked Detroit for the first satellite office.
But the Obama administration was persuaded that additional satellite offices are necessary and agreed to potentially open more.
“Our hope is that if they try Detroit for a while and get traction there, they’ll see the benefits of opening more,” Drapkin said.
Other countries have decentralized patent offices, which gives them an advantage in innovation, Drapkin said. Inventors shouldn’t have to travel to Washington to meet with an examiner and discuss their patent filings, he said. Reduced turnover and better access should make the office more efficient and able to handle greater volume, he said.
“First to file”
The patent agency employs 9,500 people, including more than 6,000 examiners in its Alexandria, Va., offices. As many as 2,000 new examiners could be hired during the next year. Additional funding is also expected for technology investments that would enable satellite offices.
The law is the first significant change in patent law since 1952. It is meant to help the office reduce its backlog of 1.2 million patents. Each patent approval takes an average of three years.
A key shift in the law is changing the United States from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system. The move aims to reduce disputes and litigation, but groups representing entrepreneurs and small businesses complained it will favor corporations with big legal budgets. Inventors also have criticized the act for failing to rein in patent litigation abuses.
The law was backed by companies including Google and Apple as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Another important facet of the law is to give the office more control over its budget. Currently Congress receives patent-filing fees, but it doesn’t always budget the full amount to the office. The new law will establish an escrow fund for the office’s revenues and give the office more predictability in budgeting.
The law also sets up a new process for reviewing patents, intended to reduce litigation.
Greg Griffin: 303-954-1241 or firstname.lastname@example.org