San Jose to get major, federal prize: A new U.S. Patent Office in the heart of Silicon Valley

Posted by the San Jose Mercury News July 1, 2012.

By Sharon Noguchi

Delivering Silicon Valley a long-coveted prize, the U.S. Department of Commerce has selected San Jose to a get new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Commerce Department will make the long-awaited announcement Monday, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

“Fabulous!” said Kim Walesh, the economic development director of San Jose, which dangled a 20,000-square-foot floor in City Hall among other enticements for picking the city.

More than 600 cities applied to host the first-ever expansion of the patent office. The pool was narrowed to fewer than 50 in the spring. In addition to San Jose, Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas also have been chosen for patent office sites, according to documents obtained by the Denver Post.

“I’m kind of floating right now,” said an ecstatic Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, part of the public-private coalition that pushed hard to persuade the Department of Commerce to select San Jose. As part of the 58-page application submitted in January, 125 valley CEOs signed a letter backing the effort. On Sunday, Guardino was on his way to toast the victory with Lofgren at her San Jose office. “You’ve got to celebrate on this occasion.”

“A local patent office will give Silicon Valley the capability to deal with the volume of patent applications generated here but will also enhance the quality of the applications,” said Lofgren, who also lobbied for the local office. “Having patents examined in the valley will enhance the communication between the inventor and authors and increase patent quality and decrease the delay in the development of patents. This is a very big deal.”

Spread the credit

Lofgren credited, among others, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, San Jose State University, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the city of San Jose for putting on a successful full court press.

Mayor Chuck Reed had made winning a patent office a priority, promising prime real estate at good rates to the feds.

Jeff Janssen, Reed’s senior policy adviser for government relations who worked on the application, expressed caution on Sunday about the final announcement. While the Commerce Department would not deny to Lofgren’s staffers that three locations were winners, Janssen will not relax until he hears the formal announcement on Monday. Still, he was confident because he believes that San Jose exceeded the necessary site criteria, including the number of patents filed in the area and the ability to recruit top engineers.

The city also touted easy access to major universities with strong engineering programs and to public transportation systems, including a major airport. But while San Jose can share facilities with other government operations, the feds’ desire for a place with a reasonable cost of living was a challenge that Silicon Valley overcame with other virtues.

However, according to Mohammad Qayoumi, president of San Jose State, the school offered to create an internship program with the patent office and training.

“We will make sure the patent office quickly has a qualified staff,” he said.

Prime location

The new locations mark the first expansion of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is based in suburban Virginia and is swamped with a backlog of more than 1 million applications due in part to 500,000 applications being submitted annually. Today, it takes roughly three years to get a patent approved. An office in Detroit, approved two years ago, is expected to open later this month.

California submits one-quarter of all patent applications — more than half of those from Silicon Valley. For years, reformers have pushed to create regional patent offices, a goal embraced by patent office Director David Kappos and former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Legislation passed by Congress last year and signed by President Barack Obama requires at least three new offices to open in satellite locations around the country by 2014.

“This shows the federal government understands that you go where your customer is,” Guardino said. “When it comes to patents granted in U.S. that fuel the innovation economy, the epicenter on earth is Silicon Valley.”

Hank Nothhaft, a longtime patent reform activist and former CEO of Tessera in San Jose, said he was concerned that politics and other considerations might trump sound judgment in locating satellite offices. “The No. 1 choice was right here in the valley,” he said.

Staff writer Tracy Seipel and reporter Allison Sherry of the Denver Post contributed to this story. Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at