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News & Press: Colorado Technology Industry

Can Denver Land A US Patent Office?

Friday, May 21, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Su Hawk
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Can Denver land a regional U.S. Patent Office?
by Renee McGaw
The Denver Business Journal
Friday, May 21, 2010

A group that has worked for years to persuade the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to open a satellite location in Denver sees fresh hope from a new administration, and believes that a decision may be only weeks away.

"We’re eternal optimists,” said Denver patent attorney Thomas Franklin, who’s been working with fellow attorneys John Posthumus and Michael Drapkin on a renewed push to present Denver as a satellite location since new PTO Director David Kappos was confirmed last year. "But we’ve made far more progress than we made last time.”

In late January, Kappos reportedly told an audience at the Advanced Patent Law Institute in Alexandria, Va., that he hoped to have a satellite office "far away from D.C.” as a pilot program soon. Kappos since has confirmed in a private meeting that PTO officials hope to open — or at least announce — a satellite office during fiscal 2010, which ends Sept. 30, Franklin and Posthumus said.
Colorado leaders are eager to position the state as the ideal location for such an office, which could bring hundreds of well-paid patent examiner jobs to Colorado, as well as several hundred more administrative and support jobs.

"We’re talking about 300 to 400 examiners, eventually,” said Don Marostica, Colorado’s chief state economic development official. "We’ve got to do everything we can to land them in Colorado.”
Gov. Bill Ritter and every member of Colorado’s congressional delegation have written to PTO officials supporting Colorado as a location, Marostica said. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and other city and economic development officials also back the effort, Franklin and Posthumus said.
Politically connected lawyer Steve Farber, a key fundraiser for the Democratic National Con-vention in Denver in 2008, has provided advice to the three attorneys.

"My sole focus is more jobs and economic development for our community,” said Farber, of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. "I think it’s a question of where they want to locate it.”
Denver’s hopes have been dashed before. Between 2006 and 2008, Franklin and members of Colorado’s inventor community met several times with the Bush administration’s PTO officials about opening a satellite office. But the idea stalled under former PTO Director Jon Dudas, who favored expanding the patent office’s at-home teleworking program instead.

Most of the PTO’s approximately 8,500 employees work in a huge Alexandria, Va., complex that has been considered overcrowded almost from the day the PTO moved into it in 2005.
Patent examiner salaries range from $42,000 to $155,000, arguably low compared with housing costs in the Washington, D.C., area. That makes it difficult to recruit and retain well-educated engineering and science professionals, which in turn has contributed to a backlog of more than 700,000 unread patent applications.

The telework program has helped, but it has drawbacks. Under federal personnel rules, examiners are required to report to their "duty station” — that is, PTO headquarters — at least twice every two weeks. Earlier this year, a deal was reached that allows teleworkers who live within 50 miles of the PTO to change their duty station to their home, so they don’t have to travel so often. But the new rule doesn’t affect those who live farther away; they still must journey regularly, at their own expense, to Alexandria.

Opening one or more satellite offices outside the Beltway would allow the PTO to pull from a wider applicant pool and retain examiners longer than the current 30-month average, Franklin said.
After Kappos became PTO director in August 2009, Franklin — a partner at Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP — began working with Drapkin, also of Townsend, and Posthumus, an attorney with Sheridan Ross PC. Drapkin and Posthumus head the intellectual property section of the Colorado Bar Association.

The three have spoken repeatedly with Kappos in the past year, and at press time were scheduled to meet with the PTO’s deputy director, Sharon Barner, in Washington May 20 to discuss Denver as a location. The city’s selling points include its reasonable cost of living and housing; middle-of-the-country location and proximity to Denver International Airport, the nation’s fifth busiest airport; a strong technical workforce and several major universities with outstanding science and engineering programs; 14 federal research labs, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and quality-of-life factors including abundant sunshine and proximity to the Rocky Mountains, the attorneys said.

Competing with other states
But other states are interested, too, including Michigan, Texas, California and Utah. Paul Michel, chief judge of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears patent appeals, last month urged Congress to "let the PTO open satellite offices in places like Detroit and Houston, and hire unemployed engineers who are already experienced IP professionals.”

California, where Kappos grew up, is another possibility. During Kappos’ May 5 testimony before the federal House Judiciary Committee, California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, whose district includes Silicon Valley, reportedly sparred with Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents San Diego, over which city might be a better location for a satellite office.

Utah officials recently offered free long-term rent for a PTO office, Marostica said. "We’re going to work through this, but it’s not easy,” he said. The PTO hasn’t made any formal announcement regarding a satellite office. Phone and email messages to several PTO media spokespeople weren’t returned by press time. Attracting a PTO satellite office would mean much more than just additional federal government workers, Franklin and Posthumus said.

"Having something like that here would be attractive to Fortune 500 companies,” Posthumus said. "It would help support the growth of startup companies here in Colorado. There’s a broad ripple effect.”

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