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September/1/2012

EXPANDING ACCESS TO THE US PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE: Why Satellite Offices are Good for Innovation By Elaine C. Berlin & Matthew B. Pinckney

EXPANDING ACCESS TO THE US PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE: Why Satellite Offices are Good for Innovation By Elaine C. Berlin & Matthew B. Pinckney

Matthew B. Pinckney
Hoffman Warnick LLC
mpinckney@hoffmanwarnick.com   

Elaine C. Berlin
Hoffman Warnick LLC
eberlin@hoffmanwarnick.com

(From the September 2012 Newsletter) On July 2, 2012, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced plans to open three new satellite offices in Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, and San Jose, CA in early 2013.  This announcement came just prior to the grand opening of the USPTO’s first satellite office in Detroit, MI on July 12, 2012.  These satellite offices mark the first expansion of the USPTO beyond the Washington, D.C metro area.

Currently, applications for a patent or trademark are assigned to a patent examiner or trademark examining attorney (collectively referred to as “examiner”) working for the USPTO.  In most cases, that examiner works at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA.  In order to discuss a pending application with that examiner in person, Applicants must schedule a time to meet with the examiner in Alexandria, VA.  While some more senior examiners are given the freedom to work at home for a time, in order to conduct an in-person interview with the examiner, both the applicant and the examiner must go to the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria.  Additionally, because most of the examiners work out of the USPTO headquarters in the Eastern Time Zone, patent and trademark professionals from other time zones need to be cognizant of the time difference in attempting to even contact examiners over the phone. 

With the introduction of the new satellite offices, applicants may have substantially better opportunities to contact examiners (either in person or over the phone).  Each satellite office will be equipped to hire approximately 100 examiners and several administrative patent judges.  Additionally, the satellite offices will operate as a check-in location for those examiners that currently utilize the USPTO’s “hotel” (remote work) program.  These satellite offices will also include teleconferencing equipment which will enable applicants to interact with examiners, and examiners to participate in administrative procedures (such as patent appeals) with appeals judges in the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria. 

Along with providing applicants with improved access to patent examiners, the new satellite offices should help to improve the quality of the patent process by enabling the USPTO to hire qualified examiners in each of these regional offices.  Because working as a patent examiner previously required spending a significant amount of time working in the Washington, DC metro area (prior to becoming a senior examiner), many qualified and interested potential examiners were unable or unwilling to apply.  These regional satellite offices should help the USPTO to hire more qualified examiners from across the US to help in tackling the enormous backlog of US patent applications.
 
According to David Kappos, the Director of the USPTO, creating these regional satellite offices marks, “an historic step toward further advancing our word’s best IP (intellectual property) system, [] reinforcing the United States as the number one destination for innovation capital, and research and development around the world.”  Applicants can see this expansion as a sign that the USPTO is interested in helping to issue quality patents and trademarks in a timely manner, allowing those applicants to effectively protect and capitalize on their innovations.






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