After a year of false starts, the first-ever satellite branch of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will open in Detroit in July.
The new branch is expected to create more than 100 patent examiner and support staff jobs. The Elijah J. McCoy United States Patent and Trademark Office will be on the Detroit riverfront in the building that formerly housed both Parke-Davis Laboratories and the headquarters of the Stroh Brewery Co.
Although a Detroit office was initially announced in December 2010, plans were shelved last April because of a federal cap in agency funding. The project regained momentum last fall after federal legislation changed the patent approval process for the first time since 1952 — most notably switching from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system.
“The project got back on track when the ‘America Invents Act’ was signed into law by the president last September,” said Azam Khan, deputy chief of staff for the patent office and head of the satellite-office project. “That bill specifically asked us to open satellite offices, subject to available funding.”
The patent office is a fee-funded agency, in that all revenue comes from patent and user fees. The U.S. Treasury Department will maintain a Patent and Trademark Fee Reserve Fund to collect fee revenue that exceeds the agency’s statutory operating costs — but the legislation also imposes a new 15 percent surcharge on patent office fees and a $4,800 fee for prioritized examination starting Sept. 26, which could reduce applications in the short term.
Khan said that, after the bill’s passing, the patent office felt comfortable moving ahead with plans for a satellite location because they’d have secure access to patent fees and revenue for this fiscal year.
These regional offices are being established in an effort to chip into a vast backlog of pending patent applications — more than 700,000 have yet to be reviewed. After the opening of the Detroit office, plans are under way to establish two more satellites nationally over the next three years.
The Detroit office will begin as a relatively small outpost. The patent office in Washington, D.C., employs more than 10,000.
Downtown’s relatively low real estate prices were a key factor in the agency’s choosing Detroit as a strategic hub.
Other factors motivated the patent office to focus on Detroit: the large number of patents acquired by the automotive industry and the region’s recent growth in high-tech business.
A year ago, recruiters set up an email hotline for prospective patent office employees. The organization expects to post job openings this spring.
The Detroit office is named after Elijah McCoy, an inventor and patent-gatherer who made Detroit his home in his later years. He is best known as the inspiration for the phrase “the Real McCoy.”