Last week I went to the Sunnyvale Public Library to hear Michelle Lee, the deputy head of the United States patent office in charge of the Silicon Valley branch. Speaking to a crowd of about sixty members of the public, the former chief patent counsel at Google outlined her vision for the future satellite office and how members of the public could contribute to it. Lee hopes that the Silicon Valley patent office will bring a new attitude to the patent system through geographic and cultural means.
The Silicon Valley patent office is part of a federal government initiative to make resources for patent applications and searches easier to obtain for the public. When Congress passed the America Invents Act (AIA), Lee explained, the Washington, D.C. based patent office was mandated to set up new branch locations in areas to better serve the public. One branch office is already open in Detroit, and three more are planned for Dallas, Denver, and Silicon Valley. Lee noted that back when she was working in the private sector, in order to get an in-person interview with a patent office examiner on your patent application, you needed to fly to Virginia. A Silicon Valley patent office would allay the need to time multiple examiner interviews so that the key people on the patent applications would only need to fly across the country once or twice. Furthermore, the branch office in Silicon Valley is planning to offer teleconferencing services to allow someone local to the Bay Area to video chat with any examiner outside of the branch office. Lee admitted that the guidelines for choosing an examiner are still being reviewed, so geographical convenience may be a factor in choosing an examiner for a patent application. For example, if there are not enough examiners in the Silicon Valley to handle a specific field of inventions, a Bay Area patent applicant may need to argue with someone in Washington instead of someone local.
Lee wants to make clear that the patent office is in the process of building the local permanent branch. The temporary patent office should be open in Menlo Park, a campus shared with the United States Geological Survey. Lee expects the permanent Silicon Valley patent office to be open in a year or two on schedule with AIA guidelines; of the satellite offices mandated to be opened, only Detroit’s is up and running. Upon questioning, Lee told the crowd that she hopes the Silicon Valley patent office will have a separate web site from the official patent office, but her organization is currently in start-up mode. While construction of the foundation continues, Lee points to the outreach her office has been involved in concerning patent prosecution, eligibility, and litigation. There may be more community discussions like the software patent roundtable held at Stanford a few months ago and the continued examinations roundtable held at Santa Clara shortly thereafter.
Michelle Lee’s talk at the Sunnyvale Library was a cordial and informative discussion with members of the public about the upcoming Silicon Valley patent branch. The branch office is expected hire more experienced staff in patent and technology areas to handle the ever-increasing workload of the United States patent system. Look for more correspondence on these topics as time goes on and we find out more information on how the patent office will take advantage of the Silicon Valley culture and ingenuity to increase scientific and artistic knowledge as well as economic output.