Patent News | "Patent Agency Seeks a San Jose-Area Outpost"

Category: Patent News

Patent News
Across town from the bitter Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. patent trial taking place in San Jose, staffers from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week met with city officials and scouted sites for what could become the agency's second office outside of its headquarters in suburban Washington. D.C.

After studying living costs, commuting options, housing, real estate and other factors, the patent office recently settled on the San Jose metropolitan area for a new satellite location, says Vikrum Aiyer, special adviser to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.

The agency opened its first satellite office in Detroit last month, and additional sites are slated for the Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver areas.

The expansion is designed to improve the speed of the patent application process and draw new talent to the office, the agency says. The patent office gets about half a million patent applications annually, leaving it with a recent backlog of more than 600,000—though that's down from 750,000 at the beginning of 2009.

With the San Jose area's roll call of prominent tech companies, including eBay Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc., the region is responsible for more patent applications than any other and even edges out the New York metropolitan area, according to 2010 data from the patent office.

While the agency mulls its options in towns like San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, among others, the cities are putting their best foot forward to ensure the office comes to their zip code.

"It's quite clear there are many places that would work right here in San Jose," says San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed in an interview, adding that there's available floor space in City Hall, as well as about 15 million square feet of rentable office space.

Dave Whittum, vice mayor of Sunnyvale, points to the city's central locale and ease of transport as reasons the patent office should open there. "Of course we'd like to have them in Sunnyvale," he says.

Santa Clara also hopes to lure the agency, and Dan Beerman, a spokesman for the city, says it is preparing a proposal for the patent office. "We have the lowest utility rates in the area," he says.

The agency will move into federally owned or leased property in the area if there are appropriate vacancies, as dictated by a government cost-saving requirement, Mr. Aiyer says.

Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren was among those who met with patent officials last week. She says she thought San Jose, her hometown and the heart of her district, was most likely to gain the prize. "We're eager to have this move forward," she says.

The agency's arrival, however, doesn't guarantee an immediate economic windfall. Though the office plans to hire about 120 new staffers, including patent examiners and attorneys, it has until the end of next year to be up and running, says Mr. Aiyer. The budget for the Silicon Valley office is still being determined; it will be funded with monies collected from application fees, not taxes.

Mr. Aiyer says the agency hopes to have more interaction with start-ups to help them improve patent applications, and it is planning a computer room with searchable databases, as well as a teleconference room and other amenities that will be open to the public. "We'd like to be more accessible," he says.