The real McCoy: New patent office named after Michigan inventor

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

The prolific 19th century Michigan inventor Elijah McCoy, best known for inventions that revolutionized heavy-duty machinery, secured more than 50 patents in his lifetime. He would probably have been amazed to learn that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a backlog of more than 750,000 patent applications, and entrepreneurs cooling their inventive heels for three or four years before getting a green light--a logjam that slows down innovative business development and job creation.

So McCoy--he of "the real McCoy" term indicating superior products--would also no doubt be delighted that the new Detroit satellite patent office bears his name, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, one of the leaders in the effort to land the office for Detroit and author of the measure to name the office after this inventor and entrepreneur, the son of former slaves.

The office, in the Stroh River Place Building in Rivertown, just east of downtown Detroit, and the first such facility outside the nation's capital in the USPTO's 200-plus year history, officially opened July 13 in a ribbon cutting attended by a number of dignitaries including Senator Stabenow and U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Congressmen Gary Peters, Hansen Clarke, John Dingell, and John Conyers; Mayor David Bing; and Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, one of the top 14 universities worldwide for patent success, and awarded an average of 80 patents per year.

Detroit leads the way for three more offices to follow later--in Denver, Dallas, and Silicon Valley--in an overhaul of the USPTO mandated by last September's passage of the America Invents Act. According to a report from the U.S. Commerce Department, IP-intensive industries are the source--directly or indirectly--of 40 million jobs, and contributed $5.06 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2010.

The Motor City is first out of the gate because of the auto industry, high volume of patenting activity, high percentage of scientists and engineers, educational and major research institutions, and significant number of patent agents and attorneys. According to the USPTO, work initially will focus on patent applications with mechanical and electrical engineering applications.

The 31,000-square-foot office, previously filled by a regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau, will employ about 120 people. Situated on the banks of the Detroit River, and listed on the National Historic Registry, the building once housed the Parke-Davis Laboratories as well as the Stroh's Brewery Headquarters.

The new satellite office will be a boon for local law firms in the IP field.

Michael Walsh, CEO of LexisNexis Legal & Professional, whose firm hosted and sponsored the event, was on the panel, and said that intellectual property rights and related law are extremely important to businesses of all types and sizes--in Detroit, in the U.S. economy and globally.

"IP issues are clearly much more important to the executive agenda than ever before and then, as a result of that, there is a much greater need for companies to apply more resources on IP issues and protection--particularly legal expertise and technology," he said.

Walsh noted Detroit is a major center of U.S. innovation and production--particularly for a new generation of automobiles, but in other areas too; and that between agriculture and industry, the Midwest region is a vital area for the U.S. economy.

His company looks at the whole market for IP technology as a very attractive and growing area for LexisNexis.

"We've invested in and launched a number of solutions to help legal professionals efficiently and confidently manage their patents and stay current on trends and issues related to IP," he said.

Panelist Monte Falcoff, a principal and patent and trademark lawyer at Harness Dickey in Detroit and an adjunct professor of IP law at Michigan State University College of Law, said the USPTO will find Metro Detroit a great place to do business.

"Patent quality should increase by the PTO hiring examiners from the very talented and experienced engineers and patent attorneys in Michigan," he said. "Approximately two-thirds of the patent examiners in the PTO's Northern Virginia office have little or no real world engineering experience but that should become less of an issue with the new Detroit examiners. In turn, these more technically experienced examiners should better understand the patent applications, prior art and the ordinary skill level in the industry thereby improving the patent examination process."

Published: Thu, Jul 19, 2012

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