When David Kappos took over the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2009, he faced a seemingly insurmountable task: The office was dealing with a backlog of more than 750,000 patent applications, with an average wait time of three-to-four years.
So when President Obama stepped in, signing the America Invents Act into law, Kappos could breathe a sigh of relief. The legislation gave the office funding to open three new satellite offices outside of its Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters to deal with the patent backlog.
After an extensive search for its location, the USPTO found, what it believed, to be the best city to house its new patent office: Detroit.
The office will occupy 31,000 square feet at 300 River Place Drive. The building, situated on the banks of the Detroit River, is listed on the National Historic Registry and was the former home to Parke-Davis Laboratories as well as the Stroh's Brewery Headquarters. Come July, the office will hire 100 patent examiners with experience in intellectual property.
But why Motor City? Why not, say, San Francisco? Or Boston? Or New York? Patents are important to start-ups for a variety of reasons, so why not choose a place known for business formation and innovation?
Richard Maulsby, the acting chief communications officer of the USPTO, says that's exactly why Detroit was the perfect place for the office.
"The USPTO considered many factors before making its final decision to locate its first new satellite office in Detroit," he says. "The city fulfilled a number of critical criteria, including a high percentage of scientists and engineers in the workforce; access to major research institutions; a high volume of patenting activity; and a significant number of patent agents and attorneys in the area."
"Over the past decade, when every economic indicator was going down, the one area in which Michigan improved its performance was patent production."
—Benjamin Erulkar, SVP of economic development.
In fact, Michigan colleges and universities graduate more than 6,675 engineers and engineering technicians each year, ranking Michigan fourth in the United States for engineering degrees conferred, points out Benjamin Erulkar, the senior vice president of economic development for the Detroit Regional Chamber. And the struggling auto industry, a PTO official says, also has led to unemployed engineers eager for work.
Detroit also has the highest concentration of industrial and mechanical engineers in the United States—about three times the U.S. average—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009, Michigan ranked 7th in the nation for the total number of patents with 3,516. And The Dice Report, a monthly look at the technology job market, reported last year that Detroit is now the fastest-growing region for technology jobs in America.
"Over the past decade, when every economic indicator was going down, the one area in which Michigan improved its performance was patent production," Erulkar says. "It's a symbol not only of the ecosystem that we have, but the potential we have to grow it in future years."
There's no denying that Detroit has fallen on hard times. In the past 10 years, Detroit saw a staggering 25 percent of its population flee the city limits. But within that trend was perhaps something even more startling statistic: The population of college-educated 25 to 39-year-olds increased a whopping 59 percent.
"You see the beginnings of a revitalization that is heavily focused on small business, start-ups, venture capital, and the repopulation of downtown area," says Erulkar. "The office also gives businesses around the region an affirmation that, even given the troubles of the last decade, our performance in innovation is steady and is what carries Detroit out of its economic troubles."