PTO Announces Opening of Satellite Office In Detroit With 100 Examiners by Mid-2011

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The Patent and Trademark Office announced Dec. 16 a plan to open its first satellite office for patent operations in Detroit within a year.

In a press teleconference, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and PTO Director David J. Kappos said the establishment of the Detroit office will launch the Nationwide Workforce Program--described by the PTO as “a new agency strategy to aid in recruiting and retention and to make the PTO more accessible to innovators across the country.”

Kappos said that the Detroit satellite office will house 100 examiners and some support personnel. The office will be located in the city of Detroit, with the occupancy agreement expected to be finalized before the end of this month, Kappos said. The agency hopes to be posting vacancy announcements for the jobs on its website and at no later than April and possibly as early as February, with the first examiners on board in the summer of 2011.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm expressed pride in her state being the first selected to host a satellite office.

“It sends a strong signal that Michigan--and really the Midwest generally--is a center for innovation,” she said.

Locke said the Detroit office is expected to be “the first of several patent offices we hope to establish around the country,” with possibly two more opening within a year after the Detroit office is operational.

Selection From Among Several City Candidates.

Asked why the city was picked from among several other candidates, Kappos said, “Detroit made a wonderful choice.”

Kappos cited as the selection criteria:

• proximity to a research university, the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor;

• a high number of patent applications--Granholm said Michigan ranked seventh in the country;

• the number of patent agents and attorneys;

• the amount of engineering talent and their availability--clearly implying that layoffs in the automobile industry created a bigger talent pool in Detroit;

• the cost for building space;

• the cost of living;

• access via local transportation and proximity to airports; and

• a local CommerceConnect facility, described on its website as “an initiative launched by Secretary Gary Locke in October 2009 to make businesses more competitive and create jobs by bringing all of the Department of Commerce's services together under one roof.”

Though the agency wants to hire primarily from the engineering talent in the Detroit area, Kappos said, “We are open to some examiners [from PTO headquarters in Alexandra, Va.] relocating.” He also said they are still working on the level of management presence that will be necessary in the satellite office.

A Boon to Detroit Area Prosecution Practice?

In a May 5 interview with BNA, Kappos's predecessor, Jonathan W. Dudas, noted that the agency randomly assigns applications to examiners, making satellite offices of limited benefit to local practitioners (80 PTCJ 48, 5/14/10).

But Kappos said that the Detroit office will likely have a technology focus. “We want to have expertise that maps well with the local industry,” he said, citing the automobile industry in particular.

This will be particularly crucial for the agency's recent focus on its first action interview program, in which the patent examiner performs a prior art search and shares the results with an applicant, who can then participate in an interview with the examiner (78 PTCJ 703, 10/9/09). Indeed, both Kappos and Locke praised the satellite office concept in that the proximity of prosecutors to examiners will expand interview opportunities even more.

“Following an evaluation of the first satellite office, the USPTO will consider opening additional offices, which would provide the patent applicant community and our nation's innovators greater access to the USPTO and the services it offers,” according to a Dec. 17 press release from the PTO.

Nationwide Workforce Program.

The press release indicated that the selection of Detroit represents the first phase of the PTO's Nationwide Workforce Program--“an effort to hire more patent examiners and seek out additional resources and technical expertise in locations across the country.”

The workforce expansion program was described as a “nationwide work force model” in the agency's Performance and Accountability Report Fiscal Year 2010, followed by more detail in its 2010-2015 Strategic Plan.

In addition to new satellite offices, the PTO program includes expanded telework opportunities, and a modified hiring focus. “The plan targets hiring experienced IP professionals interested in joining the USPTO, but who do not want to relocate to the Washington, D.C. region,” according to the Performance and Accountability Report.

“Whereas USPTO's previous hiring has been focused on scientific background and experience, this new model places more emphasis on recruiting candidates with significant IP experience, such as registered patent attorneys and patent agents, former examiners, as well as skilled technologists having experience with the USPTO as inventors,” the Strategic Plan indicated. “It is expected that this different hiring demographic will provide a more productive and balanced workforce, lower attrition, and faster transition to productivity for new hires.”

As to satellite office expansion specifically, the Strategic Plan cited the following criteria for determining the success of a new office: the number of experienced hires; the attrition rate at the nationwide workforce (NWF) location; the production level at the NWF location; and a cost comparison between the NWF location and headquarters.

The last of those criteria is reflected in what the Strategic Plan cited as an additional benefit of remote offices: “minimizing real estate costs associated with workforce expansion.” Such cost-saving considerations may suggest that higher-priced areas such as Silicon Valley and the northeast are at a disadvantage in the selection process.

By Tony Dutra

PTO's 2010-2015 Strategic Plan is at

PTO's Performance and Accountability Report Fiscal Year 2010 is at