Last month, the USPTO opened its very first satellite office in Detroit and announced the planned opening of three additional offices in Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, Colorado (Denver); San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California (Silicon Valley); and Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington, Texas (Dallas). The America Invents Act (AIA) provides that the USPTO will open three satellite patent offices before fiscal year 2014, and the USPTO has already posted job openings in each of those cities. Once the office space parameters are defined, it is expected to take approximately one year before the additional satellites open.
The AIA had several goals for its satellite offices, including increased outreach, improved hiring and retention, decreased backlog and improved quality of examination. Other criteria were taken into consideration as well, such as geographic diversity, availability of recruits and economic impact to the region. After an empirical analysis was performed on the candidate cities, Denver, Silicon Valley and Dallas came out on top.
The USPTO leadership says the intention is not to replicate the Alexandria location in each city, but to tailor the approach for each location to emphasize the available resources and needs of the community. For example, Director Kappos has mentioned that a Silicon Valley office may have a higher proportion of administrative law judges (ALJs) than other offices, as an examiner’s salary of approximately $80K may not draw as much interest as a $150K salary offered to ALJs with productivity bonuses increasing potential earnings to $200K.
Kilpatrick Townsend Partner Tom Franklin conducted the first on-site examiner interview in Detroit in early August 2012. The interview included five participants – Tom Franklin and his client participated in person, a Kilpatrick Townsend associate participated by phone from Denver, a teleworking examiner not yet assigned to the Detroit office was in attendance, as well as the examiner’s supervisor working from home near Alexandria. The technology in place worked flawlessly.
The Detroit patent office has about 90 examiners and ten ALJs. The examiners are almost all new hires drawn from readily available pools of electrical and mechanical engineers. All examiners are currently completing training. A local supervisor is provided for administrative guidance in conjunction with a technical supervisor based in Alexandria in their art unit to provide substantive guidance. Upgraded video conferencing equipment from Tandberg™ and WebEx™ is being rolled-out to allow video collaboration between different locations. Remote ALJs can participate in oral arguments using this equipment.
Now that each major region of the country and time zone now has its own patent office, the USPTO will likely see greater employee retention and an increase in the number of quality applicants. Hiring the best examiners will only improve patent quality over time. Previously, examiners had to move to the DC area, which has quality of life, affordability and other issues that reduced the pool of quality applicants and caused its workforce to be somewhat transient.