Patent office will be a boost for Bay Area, state 

The Bay Area is home to Silicon Valley, and some of the largest technology companies in the world are housed in and between the South Bay and San Francisco. There is also the cluster of biotech companies that reside in San Francisco and San Mateo County. The driving force behind these companies: innovation.

Innovation is important for the economy of the United States. According to a recent study from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, “Innovation — the process through which new ideas are generated and successfully introduced in the marketplace — is a primary driver of U.S. economic growth and national competitiveness.”

The numbers that follow innovation are stunning: In 2010, intellectual property industries — those that file patents, hold copyrights and register trademarks — directly accounted for 27.1 million jobs in the U.S., according to the Commerce Department report; those sectors supported 12.9 million jobs throughout the economy, totaling 40 million jobs in the U.S. that were either directly or indirectly created by intellectual property industries, contributing $5.06 trillion to the economy.

It is not enough, though, that companies continue to innovate. The government must move to help protect innovations so work that went into their creation can be harnessed for the market. As the Department of Commerce study states, “The granting and protection of intellectual property rights is vital to promoting innovation and creativity and is an essential element of our free-enterprise, market-based system.”

Without the governmental protection of intellectual property, others would be able to effectively steal the outcome of the creative process and then build it elsewhere.

But as companies in the U.S. continue to innovate, the government struggles to keep up and protect intellectual property. There is currently a backlog of 600,000 patents, and the average wait time for a patent to be cleared is 36 months.

According to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, roughly a quarter of the backlog in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is for applications that were filed in California. In order to clear the backlog across the U.S. and speed the approval process, this week the patent office  announced the opening of four satellite offices, including one in Silicon Valley.

The need for an office in California is great. In 2010, the Golden State received 30,080 patents, which was 25 percent of all the patents granted in the U.S. The location of the office in the Bay Area also makes sense. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office said, “Six of the top 10 patent-producing cities in the country are located in or near Silicon Valley, including San Jose, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Fremont and Cupertino.”

In order to help open a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the state, federal lawmakers from both parties who represent California districts joined together in a rare show of cooperation and sent a letter to the director of the patent office.

Newsom — in one of his three trips to Washington, D.C., and Virginia to push for the office opening in the state — even hand-delivered the letter to the director. Newsom told The San Francisco Examiner he made his first trip because California was not even on the map for one of the patent offices.

The four offices emerged from a pool of more than 50 metropolitan areas. The patent agency met with hundreds of state and federal officials, all of whom were competing to have the satellite offices opened in their jurisdiction.
But out of the grueling requirements — including “geographical diversity, regional economic impact, ability to recruit and retain employees, and the ability to engage the intellectual property community” — Silicon Valley emerged as a winner.

The bipartisan support and hard work from our lawmakers to get the patent office opened here has secured a much-needed resource that will protect innovators, especially in the Bay Area, as they continue to produce new products and ideas that will drive our economy forward for years, and decades, to come.

“When we do focus our attention in California and reach across the political aisle, we can compete with anyone, anywhere,” Newsom said.

That sentiment and the win of the patent office should stand as examples for what California needs to do moving forward to maintain and advance innovation capital.

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