Saturday Seminars: Local Patent Office presents program for independent inventors

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

In creating a vehicle to bring their expertise to the motor city, the United States Patent and Trademark Office didn't believe it needed to reinvent the wheel. They simply revived a seminar series that seemed well suited to their new local branches like the recently opened Elijah J. McCoy USPTO Satellite Office in Detroit.

"We used to do these 'Saturday Seminars' and now we're reinvigorating the concept to mark the opening of our satellite offices, first in Detroit, then with the upcoming Dallas, Denver and San Jose offices," said Elizabeth Dougherty, director of Inventor Education, Outreach, and Recognition in the Office of Innovation Development at the USPTO. "We think it's important to show a presence at the satellite offices, not only with the team that's there, but to also bring folks out from the headquarters in Alexandria to share their knowledge, especially legal expertise."

The program ran Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the satellite office located at 300 River Place South, Suite 2900, in Detroit.

Topics presented included "Patent Searching and the USPTO Website;" "Entrepreneurship -- Keys to Success and Pitfalls to Avoid;" "Access to Information for Small Businesses and Exporters;" "Local Resources for Entrepreneurs and Innovators;" and "The Role of the Attorney -- Keeping Your Idea Safe and On Course."

Regional Manager Robin Evans, who runs the Detroit office, said that there's clearly a demand for information on those topics, based on what she and her staff see every day.

"We have a lot of people walk in," she said. "We have what's called a 'public search space' and we have a lot of folks who come in to use the workstations. Those visitors have a lot of questions about the USPTO. We weren't always able to answer those questions because of time constraints, so we reached out to the Office of Innovation Development and asked them what we could do to help the community."

Speakers from the USPTO at the event included Dougherty; Paul Grochowski, engineering librarian, Patent and Trademark Resource Ctr., and Ram Shukla, supervisory patent examiner. Also featured were Michael B. Stewart of Rader, Fishman, & Grauer, PLLC; Charlie Moret, managing director of Entrepreneurial Programs, Tech Town; and Lisa Stobierski, of the Department of Commerce.

There also was a "Town Hall" session, which was open for questions.

Evans said the program is open to any member of the public who's interested, but she expects to see mostly independent inventors and people starting businesses that involve intellectual property.

Dougherty added that the sessions included a bit more of a focus on business than might have been true in years past.

"Recently we've begun to see more people who consider themselves entrepreneurs versus just inventors," she said. "In response, we've begun to broaden our materials to focus on not just intellectual property, but also how to start and grow a business."

Interest in creating new products is growing fast based on a number of factors including the slow economy, which can create discretionary time for engineers and owners of small businesses.

"We often partner with the United Inventors Association and they do a lot of outreach with local inventor organizations," Dougherty said. "Membership in the UIA and local groups is up tenfold."

The presence of the auto industry in southeast Michigan was one of the reasons that it was chosen as the location of the first satellite office. Manufacturing means engineers and scientists and that means inventors.

"One of the considerations that went into the selection of Detroit as a site for a satellite office was the large number of engineers in the area," Dougherty said.

The response of the community to the Detroit satellite office has been overwhelming and reassures the USPTO decision makers that the city was the right place for the first satellite office.

"In Detroit we've seen a real outpouring of interest from the community in the satellite office," Dougherty said. "This seminar is just one of the activities we're going to continue to do going forward, particularly because the community has been so welcoming."

Published: Mon, Dec 17, 2012