The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will open three regional hubs in Dallas, Denver, and San Jose, the agency announced Monday.
A Detroit hub is already scheduled to open July 13.
The patent office said the satellite facilities will help the agency reduce backlogs and expedite the approval process, which has a backlog of 750,000 patents that can take more than three years to review, up from 18 months in 1990.
Patents will still be filed through a database system in Alexandria, where the patent office is headquartered, and then divided among the offices for examination.
While recruitment and employee retention of patent examiners will determine the mission of each office for the short term, they may eventually concentrate on specific topics, said spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz. San Jose, amid tech-heavy Silicon Valley, may one day focus on computer technology patents and Detroit on auto-related patents.
The regional offices were chosen because of “geographical diversity, regional economic impact, ability to recruit and retain employees, and the ability to engage the intellectual property community,” Horowitz said.
The hubs also mean the patent office will maintain operations in all four time zones.
It is a major transition for one of the government’s oldest agencies.
“By expanding our operation outside of the Washington metropolitan area for the first time in our agency’s 200-plus year history, we are taking unprecedented steps to recruit a diverse range of talented technical experts, creating new opportunities across the American workforce,” David Kappos, director of the patent office, said in a statement.
The regional offices may attract qualified candidates who would move to Dallas, but not Alexandria.
The satellite offices comply with a patent reform act passed in 2011, which mandated the agency open three satellite offices by September 2014. The reform bill, the most sweeping legislation of its kind since the 1950s, intends to help the agency overcome a backlog that could cost taxpayers billions, according to a 2010 report by the Department of Commerce, which oversees the patent office.
But Michael Greenberg, a patent attorney at Greenberg & Lieberman in the District, said the satellites would likely make it more difficult for local patent attorneys to do their job.
“If part of your business strategy is to have a law firm in the Washington, D.C., area so you can go to the patent office and see a person, well, gosh, that’s a bit harder,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said face-to-face communication often helps him make a case for a client. The satellite offices may also require travel from patent attorneys, which could take away dedicated time from other clients on their roster.
“I understand the purpose,” Greenberg said, “you want to make it accessible to everyone, but in the age of the Internet everything is a lot closer. I don’t know if branching out is easier.”
Todd Noah, a partner with Dergosits & Noah, a San Francisco-based firm said the Silicon Valley satellite office would be a good thing for his firm, provided it focused on technology patents and requests from his West Coast clients were filed a the regional office. Right now it is logistically difficult for him and clients to travel to Alexandria to meet an examiner in person. The regional office could fix that.
“That would enable us to set up in person interviews out here...for me to pop down to Silicon Valley in 45 minutes would be a piece cake,” Noah said.