OTC News Archive

Austin making a pitch for a regional patent office

Kirk Ladendorf, Austin American-Statesman
April 6, 2011

Four Central Texas congressmen have begun a campaign to get the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to consider Austin as the site for a regional patent office.

Reps. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, and John Carter, Michael McCaul and Lamar Smith, all Republicans, have written to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Patent Office Director David Kappos formally asking them to consider Austin for a regional office as part of a move to address the massive backlog of patent applications.

The Commerce Department already has chosen Detroit for its first regional office and pending federal legislation would enable at least two more regional offices, each with about 100 examiners and support staff.

Silicon Valley already has begun its lobbying effort for an office, and Denver and Atlanta also are considered contenders.

Supporters of the move say such an office would bolster Austin’s standing as a center for technical innovation and become a valuable part of the area’s technology support system.

The office might also help speed the patent application process, which by some estimates can take 2¬Ĺ years or more.

Andrew Dillon, a longtime Austin patent attorney, said creating more regional offices would help the patent office with its growing backlog of applications, because it would add examiners. He said a decision could be made within a year.

Austin, because of its historic base of semiconductor and computer design, has been an active center for patent applications for the past few decades.

But the area also has a possible political edge in seeking a patent office: Smith this year became chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight responsibility for the Patent Office. Smith is from San Antonio, but his district reaches into part of Austin.

Officials at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. also are backing the proposal, in part because the company generates considerable patent activity from its Austin engineering center.

“We would be excited to have a local patent office that would be a crown jewel in the middle of our tech region here,” said Harry Wolin, AMD senior vice president and general counsel.

“It would speed information flow and the application process and it would clarify communication. It is easy to sit down across the table and explain your position,” Wolin said.

“This will be part of the Austin brand just like Sematech was,” said Larry Peterson, executive director of the Texas Foundation for Innovative Communities, who is involved with the group backing the effort.

Kappos, who formerly headed IBM Corp.’s intellectual property office, is familiar with Austin’s tech scene because of IBM’s substantial research and development operations here. He was in town for the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in March, where he spoke to budding inventors in two discussion sessions.

“It was a great opportunity for us to connect with some new audiences,” he wrote in his blog.

Texas ranked second among states with 7,545 U.S. patents granted in 2010, or roughly 7 percent of the national total. But first-place California dwarfed all other states in patent awards last year with 27,237, or roughly one in every four U.S. patents issued.

America’s innovation capitals

Ranked by patents per capita.

  1. San Jose, CA
  2. Austin, TX
  3. Boise, ID
  4. Raleigh, NC
  5. Rochester, NY

Source: Forbes magazine

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