The official opening of the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Denver — the first such facility west of the Mississippi River — is creating outlets and opportunities for innovators, entrepreneurs and others with great ideas.
The light bulbs on the 15th floor of the Byron Rogers Federal Building — the high-tech ones that remain dormant until someone enters the hallway — suddenly illuminate overhead like an inventor with a great idea.
It’s the morning of Monday, Aug. 17, and 25 employees file in for their inaugural day on the job as the first patent examiners this side of the Mississippi River. That’s really saying something, considering George Washington authorized the country’s first patent some 224 years ago.
For weeks they’ve trained a flight below before ascending this day to their new place in history, the one with a not-so-shabby view of downtown Denver and the Rocky Mountains. In a year’s time, about 75 more patent examiners and roughly 10 patent trial and appeal judges will fill out the office as Denver becomes the Mountain Time Zone’s central hub for patents and trademarks.
The Denver office is one of four new USPTO satellite offices opening between 2013 and 2015 in Detroit, Dallas and California’s Silicon Valley. In the digital era, having one central hub and close to 8,000 patent examiners and 200 judges located solely in Alexandria, Virginia, became somewhat of an obsolete notion.
The USPTO’s presence in Denver, however, is more than just two floors of fancy new office space and rubber stamps. It’s a testament to the city’s burgeoning innovation and entrepreneurial scene.
“It shines a pretty big bright light on what’s going on here in Colorado,” says John Posthumus, an attorney with the Denver-based Sheridan Ross P.C. “Innovation occurs everywhere, we should be going to where the innovation is going.”
John Posthumus, Sheridan Ross P.C.
Innovation in Denver: The new offices and their video teleconferencing technologies (think lots of giant, flat-screen televisions) allows the satellites to keep in real-time touch with the Virginia headquarters.
Posthumus played an integral role and logged countless hours lobbying for the creation of satellite patent offices as part of President Obama’s 2011 America Invents Act — only to see the first USPTO awarded to Detroit.
Losing the first satellite to Michigan was a “low point,” admits Posthumus, who started working on recruitment in 2009. Rather than quit, the patent attorney and his team went back to work and eventually succeeded in landing a USPTO office in Denver.
The new facility is estimated to create a $440 million “ripple” throughout the city over the next five years, creating jobs, education and research opportunities for Denver’s innovation class, says Posthumus.
The state-of-the-art office — 45,000 square feet spread over two floors — offers common public space for educational endeavors and training space for public classes, as well as hearing rooms and courts with video interview capabilities.
In the days before the satellite offices and before the digitization of the USPTO, records were kept in what was dubbed “The Shoe,” an archaic filing system that could only be accessed in the Virginia headquarters. Patent petitions could be done over the phone. But, the visual nature of patent presentation being what it is, most entrepreneurs were forced to travel to Alexandria to pitch their ideas.
Keeping Denver’s talent a mile high
The new offices and their video teleconferencing technologies (think lots of giant, flat-screen televisions) allow the satellites to keep in real-time touch with the Virginia headquarters, while allowing talented innovation-class workers with backgrounds in fields such as engineering and science to stay in Denver.
“Washington, D.C., does not have a monopoly on patent engineers,” says Posthumus, citing Denver’s easy downtown access, reasonable cost of living and central geographic location as attractive lures to the city. “Now people don’t have to move to Virginia.”
The USPTO — a fee-based department that doesn’t rely on taxes for support — has traditionally struggled retaining its talent. Often, employees would train on the government’s dime before splitting to take private-sector jobs at double and triple the salary.
“I think it certainly boosts the creative class where the super innovative people live and work and play together with other creative people,” says FullContact CEO Bart Lorang of Denver’s USPTO office.
As the sophistication of Denver companies grow, the city no longer finds itself competing against Boulder as far as attracting the creative class, says Lorang. Rather, a strengthened Denver innovation scene creates more of a shared ecosystem with endpoints on both sides of the U.S. 36 corridor.
Lorang says he sees Denver’s startup scene rising nationally as well. “I want to build something big and powerful here in Denver,” he says. “Not everyone needs to move to Silicon Valley to be a success.”
While Lorang and FullContact wait on approval of their own patent for their cloud-based contacts technology, others beginning the patent and trademark process can do so in Denver’s USPTO office — which aims to be an “innovation hub.”
The office offers collaborative spaces and four public workstations for the solo inventor or the novice startup founder seeking self-directed searches. The public is encouraged to walk in off the street, no appointment required. In the office, prospective innovators can browse the agency’s entire public electronic patent and trademark collections.
The Denver Public Library, 10 W. 14th Ave., also doubles as a resource for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to learn more about the USPTO’s processes. Located roughly a mile from the USPTO, the library is now an official Patent and Trademark Resource Center.
One thing is for certain: The opening of the USPTO can only make Denver that much more attractive to the entire creative class, from the seasoned entrepreneur to the neophyte inventor with a brilliant light bulb of an idea over their head.
Christopher is a freelance writer and contributor to Confluence.
Sept. 17, 2014