New Patent Office Brings Excitement to Bay Area


At first blush, nothing seems more boring than talking about a new U.S. patent office coming to San Jose.

But in Silicon Valley, the opening of a new outpost for the U.S. Patent and Trademark office means it will soon get significantly easier to do business in this innovation-crazed community.

Here's why.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awards patents to inventors of new products, processes, and machinery.

While that seems simple enough, the process is anything but. To begin with, the office is located in Alexandria, Virginia, about as far away as you can get from Silicon Valley while still being in the United States.

Until a recent plan to place four new centers in innovation hubs around the nation, that has meant expensive trips to Alexandria, Va., where the department is headquartered. Add to that a three-year backlog of patent processing and the whole idea quickly becomes a nightmare.

One out of every eight patent requests comes from Silicon Valley, an area containing less than one percent of the nation's population.

And given the global competition to get things done fast, three thousand mile journeys and three-year backlogs aren't very helpful.

They're particularly onerous to the thousands of start-ups that need precious funds for product development, not endless government meetings far away as competitors elsewhere speed ahead.

A few years back the Obama administration figured out as much when it authorized the four new patent offices.

San Jose and 600 other cities applied.

In Silicon Valley, local interests--private and public--seized the moment.

The City of San Jose filled out the paperwork, supported extensively by the 375-member Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a tech-heavy trade association. Local members of Congress--Zoe Lofgren, Mike Honda, and Anna Eshoo--did the heavy lifting in D.C. And today the announcement.

"To the credit of U.S. Patent Director David Kappos and the Obama Administration, they wisely decided that a $3 billion business - the U.S. Patent Office - should actually be located close to their customers, rather than making those customers expend the time and treasure to trek all the way across the country," said Silicon Valley Leadership Group President and CEO Carl Guardino.

If this success story sounds a bit odd it's because it is. These days, policymaking, or the lack thereof, is marked by strident polarization and political bitterness.

Gridlock dominates the political environment, while cut-throat competition trumps collaboration.

So it's great when industry groups and lawmakers work together for the greater good.

What a concept.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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