By the time the Department of Commerce announced in early July that the city of San Jose would be home to a new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) bureau, numerous people at Santa Clara University had spent months behind the scenes, lobbying intensely for this honor.
Santa Clara University President Michael Engh, S.J., was at the forefront of the local effort. He joined with other members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to help rally the support of the Silicon Valley community—including engineering and law schools, high tech businesses, and patent law firms—for San Jose’s bid for a patent office.
After all, Silicon Valley is arguably the patent capital of the U.S., producing 12 percent of patents registered nationwide and the most patent registrations in 2009. Having one of the four planned satellite bureaus here would ease the USPTO’s backlog of patent applications, and put officials in closer proximity to the cutting-edge talent and trends generating patents.
In January, the application process heated up, and the SCU School of Law High Tech Law Institute’s (HTLI) assistant director, Joy Peacock, was tapped to support the effort. She contacted local law schools, companies, startups, and others in the HTLI’s network to encourage them to write letters in support of San Jose’s application. She also compiled data on the level of engineering and law-student talent in the area, and attended meetings and focus groups on how to maximize the office and reform patent procedures.
Face Time Saves Time
At the same time, SCU intellectual-property law professor Colleen Chien worked with a special committee of patent experts and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom ’89 to prepare California’s official bid. “Fast-growing startups most urgently need their patents, and having an office close by can greatly speed the process,” said Chien.
She explained that often during patent prosecution, the parties “miss” each other by arguing on paper. An in-person interview can cut years off the time it takes to get a patent. And having patent officials nearby for visits means less interference in the real business of innovation—making and selling great products.
Clearly, the effort has paid off. Shortly after the news was announced, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank visited San Jose to start working out the details. She said the USPTO is prioritizing the San Jose office, with the goal of opening in 12 to 18 months.
Santa Clara University anticipates building a strong working relationship with the USPTO by providing qualified law and engineering candidates for USPTO jobs. SCU would also like to develop student internship programs with the office, which could help the USPTO reach its goal of shorter training times for new patent examiners, as well as providing help for their heavy caseload.
“We see the opening of the office in metro San Jose as a huge win for Santa Clara Law students, and yet another way we can leverage our Silicon Valley location to better prepare our students as patent lawyers,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute. “We will continue to work closely with the USPTO and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to provide whatever support we can to help the local patent office flourish.”
New Office, New Jobs
The satellite office is expected to employ more than 125 patent examiners, administrative law judges, and others as part of “the biggest modernization of the patent office we've ever seen,” said Blank.
In October, the law school and SCU Career Services will put on a program called “Careers in Law for Scientists and Engineers,” and hopes to have USPTO officials on a panel.
The other cities chosen to house new patent offices were Denver, Dallas, and Detroit.