In the ever-changing world of the USPTO to comply with changes in the AIA, satellite offices are being established remote from the Alexandria headquarters. A first branch was opened July 13 in Detroit, with others to follow in Denver, Dallas, and Silicon Valley. The stated purposes are included in the enacting law, and are worth going through with a critical eye.
The first purpose is to “increase outreach activities to better connect patent filers and innovators with the Office.” The way this seems most likely to happen is with an increase in interviews, more specifically video interviews, as is indicated will be possible in the Detroit office, and hopefully will also be the case for each of the other satellite offices. Aside from that, unless the Patent Office opens up the satellite offices to in-person interviews, I cannot see how outreach will increase by that much. Mixers with examiners probably wouldn’t be social events of the season. Levity aside, reaching out to individual inventors through outreach programs at the satellite offices could be a real boon to garage-inventor types, encouraging them to start pursuing patent protection for inventions where they otherwise might not be aware or be somewhat disillusioned or discouraged from doing so.
The second stated purpose is to “enhance patent examiner retention.” This might be the most worthwhile of the goals of the satellite offices. Unfortunately, it might also be the most difficult to achieve. Ostensibly, it seems like the thinking is if an examiner lives near a satellite office, their satisfaction with the job will increase, hence increasing retention. However, I can easily imagine the scenario where now, an examiner can put in his time as an examiner in the technology hub of his choice, selected from any of the satellite office locations, all the meanwhile starting his search for his next position as a patent agent or attorney, depending on his education background. Time will tell which scenario plays out.
The third stated purpose is to “improve recruitment of patent examiners.” I’m not too sure how this one will play out. Will representatives from the patent office tour nearby engineering and life sciences programs at local universities, trolling for recruits? Perhaps it will be the aforementioned mixers that generates interest in employment at the satellite offices.
The fourth stated purpose is to “decrease the number of patent applications waiting for examination.” There are of course two obvious ways to reduce the backlog of applications: increase the examining core, and reduce the average pendency for applications. In announcing the opening of the Detroit office, the USPTO said 120 highly-skilled positions would be created. I don’t know how many examiners will be included in that number, but there is a good chance a significant portion of those positions will be examiners.
The fifth and final purpose is to “improve the quality of patent examination.” This seems to be a derivative benefit of the enhancing retention and improving recruitment of examiners. If in fact examiners are successfully recruited and retained as a result of the satellite offices, it stands to reason the quality of examination would go up. We’ve seen a mix of problems and solutions to attacking the backlog dilemma, with varying degree of success. However, there seems to be agreement that the satellite offices will be a net benefit to the system, with many of the questions discussed above remaining open. One thing is certain; with the increasing rate of applications being submitted, bold action must be taken to tackle the backlog of applications, before it becomes as unwieldy as some other government figures.