Commerce Department announces plans to open long-awaited patent office in Silicon Valley

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The U.S. Commerce Department has announced plans to open a long-awaited patent office in Silicon Valley, the world’s top region for patent filers.

Commerce officials said on Tuesday the city of San Jose is donating two years of rent-free office space in San Jose City Hall, where more than 80 new patent judges and reviewers will help inventors and entrepreneurs cut through red tape.

“It’s a great relief,” said Congressman Mike Honda, D-Calif., who has pressed for years to bring the office to his constituents.

“This is going to really help our entrepreneurs protect intellectual property, help them attract capital, and bottom line, it’s going to create jobs,” said Honda.

San Jose is the nation’s top patent-producing city, with more than 7,000 patents last year, and California is the nation’s patent leader, with seven of the top 10 patent-producing cities. But until now, patent seekers needed to visit offices in Alexandria, Va.

“We should be able to make better use of the appeals process since we won’t have to travel across the country, and it’s going to be very convenient for inventors to walk into City Hall and ask their questions before they come to me,” said Perkins Coie partner Michael Glenn, a longtime Silicon Valley patent attorney.

A 2011 law raised patent fees in exchange for promises from officials to use those new revenues to speed up the patent process and establish four satellite offices for the first time in the agency’s 200-plus year history. The first opened in Detroit in July, 2012, and permanent locations for others were selected in Denver and Dallas before sequestration; those are in the process of opening.

But in August, the General Services Administration — which owns and operates federal properties — said it was suspending its search for permanent patent office space in Silicon Valley, citing federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Technology leaders from industry heavyweights including Google objected on the grounds that patent offices are supported by the $2.8 billion in annual patent fees.

“Having a Silicon Valley office increases the communication between companies in this region and the patent office, and that communication works in a lot of different ways that are really important,” said senior patent counsel Suzanne Michel at Google, which has tens of thousands of applications pending.

Michel said face-to-face meetings with examiners are common, “and it’s much easier when you don’t have to fly across the country to do it.”

While waiting, the Silicon Valley Patent Office Director Michelle Lee, a former Google patent law division head, has been working out of a small, temporary space with just a handful of administrative judges in rooms borrowed from another government agency in Menlo Park, Calif.

Lee and acting Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary Patrick Gallagher planned to discuss details of the new, permanent office during a press call scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. PST.

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