Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke was in Detroit for an export conference this week and participated in a roundtable discussion with local small business owners at the Detroit Regional Chamber. Just prior to leaving, Locke dropped a hint that the Dept. of Commerce was looking to open regional patent offices, and that one of them may be in Detroit.
From Crain's Detroit Business:
The U.S. Commerce Department is considering opening regional offices of the U.S. Patent and Trade[mark] Office as part of its work to help President Barack Obama meet his goal of doubling exports within five years.
When asked how Michigan's manufacturing-heavy industrial base would play a role in meeting that goal, Locke brought up the possibility of a local patent office.
There are currently no regional patent offices in the U.S.
"We're also looking at, for instance, having regional offices for our patent offices. We know that there's a lot of innovation occurring here in Michigan and the Detroit area, so Detroit is a candidate for a separate patent office," Locke said, while scrambling to get to the airport as Tuesday's windstorm hit metro Detroit.
He said it now takes almost three years for an applicant to get a decision on a patent. "Our goal is to get that down to one year. But a key of that is allowing the patent examiners to talk with the innovators and inventors instead of just trading letters and correspondence or e-mails," Locke said.
Forming regional patent offices is seen as a vital step in decentralizing and improving the patent examination process. Judge Michel has been a very vocal supporter of regional patent offices, and provided the following commentary during an interview (Aug. 2010) with Gene Quinn at the IP Watchdog:
Almost every federal agency I know of has regional offices. The patent office is the odd man out. This isn’t something we don’t know how to do. We do this every year, every day, in practically every agency in the country. They all have regional offices other than the patent office. This is not a hard problem to engineer. This is a question of authority: you have to have the authority to do it. I’m told he doesn’t have the legal authority to open an office in Detroit or Los Angeles, or wherever it might be. Congress has to give it to him or he can’t do it. It’s that simple.Are regional offices needed? You bet. The PTO has been kicking this idea around for the last five years or so, but no one knows exactly how serious the Office (or Congress) is on the subject. In 2006, the PTO highlighted the "consideration of establishing regional offices" as a main part of the Strategic Plan; in 2010, there's barely a mention of it . . .
[L]ook at those parts of the country where there are thousands of unemployed engineers who are experienced, competent people, many of whom are experienced in the patent system as well as their scientific or engineering discipline. They’d make the perfect patent examiner and you could solve an employment problem and a backlog problem very efficiently by hiring those experienced people where they are now. Detroit, Houston, wherever it is. Maybe several different places. I think it’s an obvious good idea. Of course it has challenges to it. Anything involving growth and expansion has challenges but I think it would pay off in a very short timeframe and be an extremely efficient way to solve a series of problems. And it’s kind of shocking that these things aren’t even being discussed.