Bringing the US Patent & Trademark Office to Colorado

Understanding the new realities of economic development

Thomas Frey:  The USPTO is hiring. In fact they are doing a lot of hiring, over 1,200 new examiners every year, and they still can’t keep up with the deluge of new patent filings. But while the number of patent filings has grown from 90,544 in 1967 to 484,955 in 2007, a 535% workload increase in 40 years plus an equally growing backlog of patent applications waiting for examiner attention, and no more room to expand in their current offices, the agency is now looking at a different approach to solving their growing pains.

First, some personal background in this matter. In 2004 I began researching the workload problems at the USPTO and wrote a paper about what I saw as an impending crisis, predicting that they would quickly run out of office space in DC, ending the article by asking the simple question, “Why not come to Colorado?” The article ended up being printed in a local magazine, but I largely viewed this as the end of the matter.

Later in a discussion with a member of the Governor’s staff, the topic came up, and he strongly encouraged me to pursue the matter, recommending I set up a task force.  Taking this as an official mandate, I pulled together a group of interested people, growing eventually to over 65 people.

In late 2005 a small group of us met with US Patent Commissioner John Doll, exploring the agency’s plans for the future.  At this meeting we were informed, by the interim CFO, that the USPTO had, in its 2008 planning budget, a line item for creating a satellite office. Nothing carved in stone to be sure, but a small clue as to how they were thinking. Not exactly headline-making news, but this small tidbit of information was enough to stoke the fire of possibilities, resulting in a series of meetings, leading to two Colorado visits by Commissioner Doll in 2006 and 2007.

That was then. Today a new reality is confronting not only the USPTO, but also other strategies for economic development in this era of virtual workforces.

In recent testimony by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Margaret J.A. Peterlin to a House Committee, the agency revealed its new direction.

“The USPTO has demonstrated that telework is a business strategy that benefits our employees, our agency and the American economy. Our experience shows telework programs result in greater employee productivity, higher levels of sustained performance, reduced traffic congestion and air pollution, and reduced real estate costs,” Deputy Under Secretary Peterlin explained. “Our motivated, high-performing employees have shown they can perform their responsibilities regardless of physical location.”

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