Atlanta bids for regional U.S. patent and trademark office

By Maria Saporta
Friday, March 9, 2012

Leaders in Atlanta and Georgia have launched a high-powered effort to lure a regional office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to the city.

The federal government has said that it wants to establish several regional offices that could review and issue patents and trademarks as a way of encouraging innovation throughout the country.

The first regional U.S. Patent Office will be located in Detroit, and it is expected to open by July — employing about 100 engineers, patent lawyers and scientists as well as 20 support staff.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is expected to pick at least two other cities to house new regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office branches by May or June. It has received proposals from cities across the country that are vying to win one of those offices.

Among the other cities seeking regional offices are Dallas and Austin, Texas; Denver; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Albuquerque, N.M.; Las Vegas; New York; Boston; New Orleans; Tampa, Fla.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and even Birmingham, Ala.

Atlanta’s proposal is being backed by an all-star list of business, academic and government leaders. A letter supporting Atlanta‘s application has been signed by U.S. senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss as well as 10 of Georgia’s 13 U.S. representatives, including Atlanta’s John Lewis.

On Feb. 29, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed flew to Arlington, Va., to meet with officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and make the case for Atlanta.

He was accompanied by Brian McGowan, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta (formerly called the Atlanta Development Authority); Hans Gant, senior vice president of economic expansion for the Metro Atlanta Chamber; and Robert Knotts, Georgia Tech’s director of federal relations.

“We have all the ingredients they are looking for to have a successful patent office,” Gant said. “It would help our companies get their patents to market quicker. And it would be important for Atlanta. It would be another feather in our technology cap — to be known as a center of innovation. It would be a great affirmation of Atlanta as a technology town.”

Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said Gov. Nathan Deal also is backing Atlanta’s application.

“It makes perfect sense for a patent office to be located here,” Cummiskey said, adding that it would facilitate getting innovations and ideas coming out of Georgia’s research universities to market.

One of the major champions behind the effort to get the U.S. Patent Office has been Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson.

Invest Atlanta’s McGowan has a unique perspective on the federal government’s initiative to create regional patent offices. Before coming to Atlanta, McGowan served as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and as chief operating officer for the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“When I was at Commerce, moving trademarks and patents out of Washington and closer to the people was a priority,” McGowan said. “This is part of a whole system of broader reform of the Obama administration to support a 21st century innovation-based economy.”
McGowan said that while funding for the new regional offices has not yet been approved, he is confident that they will be established in the near future.
“This is what Congress wants — a better and more efficient way to get patents and trademarks,” McGowan said. “I can almost assure you it’s going to happen one way or another. It has to happen because this is the way innovation happens in this country. We have to get outside of Alexandria.”

Atlanta’s application outlines several reasons why the city should get a patent office. It is the economic capital of the Southeast, and the presence of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport would give researchers and companies easy access to and from cities in the region, most of the country and even the world.

“More and more patents are being filed by foreign companies,” Gant said. “We also have the talent — the engineers, the patent attorneys; and we have a low cost of doing business.”

McGowan agreed.

“Atlanta has got tremendous advantages on every measure they are looking at. It would make so much sense for them to be in Atlanta,” he said. “We have the type of work force they will need. We have a strong entrepreneurial economy here with Georgia Tech, Emory, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and our other universities. They are looking for places that have a low cost of living and a high quality of life.”

Gant said the campaign to get a regional patent office has been a real “collaborative effort” between the mayor’s office, the governor’s office, elected officials, universities and business leaders all working “hand-in-hand” to help Atlanta get the nod.

“I feel confident that we have done everything we can do — even having the mayor show up at the USPTO office in Arlington,” McGowan said. ”For all kind of reasons, we think Atlanta is in a sweet spot.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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