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California angles for new federal patent office

WASHINGTON — A potential new regional federal patent office now has California lawmakers competing against their colleagues from other states.

New Mexico also is gunning for the Patent and Trademark Office satellite center. So are Colorado, Texas and Hawaii. So are other states, each staking its claim to one of the three satellite offices authorized in a new patent reform law.

And though a site selection may still be up to three years away, the grooming of the contenders is already under way.

"California is the epicenter of new ideas and research, with the laboratories and the universities," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said in an interview Friday. "That's where you want the patent office, where you can have the interaction."

This week, Garamendi joined 46 other California House members and both of the state's senators in a delegation letter urging Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos to "consider" locating one of the satellite offices in California.

After all, the lawmakers note, Californians lead the nation in the patent derby. Last year, 30,080 patents went to California inventors, amounting to one-quarter of the nation's total. New York, the second-ranking state, lagged far behind with 8,095 patents.

"I think it makes sense," Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said Friday of California's regional patent office proposal. "If you want to pick strawberries, you go to the strawberry field, right?"

The California lawmakers did not specify where in the state they would like the satellite office located, though somewhere in Silicon Valley seems a consensus choice. Still, patent-worthy innovation is found statewide, a fact that may help further unify the state's occasionally fractious delegation.

In just the past few weeks, Patent and Trademark Office records show, Sacramento resident Carla Gillett received a patent for a wind turbine controller, Modesto-area resident James Aiken shared a patent for a new method of processing vegetables, and California State University at Fresno linguistics professor Sean A. Fulop earned a patent — which was then assigned to the university — for a method of analyzing voices.

Three years elapsed from the time Fulop filed the patent application and its final approval, granted Oct. 11. Gillett waited two years; others have waited much longer.

"We are hopeful that having a satellite office in California will make it easier and less expensive for the state's inventors to go through the patent application process," the California congressional delegation letter stated.

Lawmakers and officials from 14 other states have already likewise written the Patent and Trademark Office expressing interest in landing a satellite office, agency spokesman Paul Fucito said Friday. Colorado's congressional delegation, for one, weighed in on that state's behalf Sept. 20, while New Mexico's congressional delegation sent an Oct. 4 letter praising its state's virtues..

"We have been contacted informally by others," Fucito added, and "we anticipate hearing from more."

The race was kicked off in a patent reform law signed by President Barack Obama in September. The bill authorizes "three or more" satellite patent offices to be established by the year 2014. The law further directs the agency to "ensure geographic diversity" in the site selection, and orders the agency to "consider the availability of scientific and technically knowledgeable personnel in the region."

A new satellite office in Detroit opening next summer will employ about 100 patent examiners and 25 or so support personnel, Fucito said, though he added that the Patent and Trademark Office is still calculating costs for the additional satellite offices.

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