The official opening on November 9th of the USPTO’s Dallas Regional Office attracted substantial interest, with Director Michelle Lee’s afternoon opening ceremony attended by various US congressmen and the evening gala at the Perot Museum swamped with patent attorneys from throughout the state. This week saw the announcement of a Regional Director for the Dallas office, drawn from the ranks of area patent attorneys. And last week’s public tours of the Dallas Regional Office facilities showcased how this local office will benefit area inventors, their employers, and the local economy.
The USPTO has announced that the Dallas Regional Office will be headed by Hope Shimabuku, a DFW educated and trained patent attorney, as Regional Director. Armed with a mechanical engineering degree and more than five years of technical experience, after obtaining her law degree at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, Ms. Shimabuku spent a number of years learning the craft of drafting and prosecuting patents in area patent firms. Subsequent stints in-house at DFW technology enterprises include nearly five years at Blackberry (formerly Research In Motion) and, more recently, several years as a vice president and corporate counsel at Xerox Business Services. Ms. Shimabuku is expected to begin serving at the USPTO Dallas Regional Office in early January, 2016.
The Dallas Regional Office to be led by Ms. Shimabuku results from legislatively-mandated dispersion of Patent Office resources. Long centralized and currently headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was required by 2011’s Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to open at least three regional offices. The official opening of the Dallas Regional Office follows those in Detroit and Denver, a trio joined by a currently operational – but not yet official – San Jose office. Each regional office except for San Jose is authorized to hire up to 100 Patent Examiners (San Jose is authorized 80), forming part of the patent application Examining Corp. Each regional office is also authorized to hire up to 20 Administrative Patent Judges, serving on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Occupying part of the first floor and all of the fifth of the Federal Building located at 207 South Houston Street, the Dallas Regional Office is presently about 60-75% filled in both areas, and also employs a substantial support staff for information technology and other needs.
Accordingly to spokespeople on the tour, the first question usually asked is some variant of “Will my local inventor’s patent application(s) be examined here in Dallas?,” indicating strong interest in perceived benefits of having only a relatively short drive to meet with the Examiner on a particular application. The answer, however, is “Not deliberately, for now.” New applications will continue to be routed to headquarters for assignment to a specific examiner, who may be local or remote. (In fact, under the USPTO’s agency-wide “hoteling” or telework program, most examiners work from home and report to federal facilities no more than twice per bi-week.) Eventually, however, some deliberate correlation between the inventor’s location in Texas and assignment of the patent application to a Texas-based examiner may be established.
Meanwhile, however, the Dallas Regional Office offers extensive benefits to area inventors. An interview room available for public use includes Tandberg videoconferencing equipment for local inventors to conduct video interviews with remote examiners. Likewise, a hearing room (also with videoconferencing capabilities, for participation of remote APJs) is available for oral arguments in administrative appeals from patent applications and, eventually, of post-grant inter partes validity review proceedings. The public search facility offers access to the Examiner’s Automated Search Tool and Examiner’s Search Tool applications for searching full-text and abstract prior art databases, with far more refined search control capabilities than available through the USPTO’s online publication databases. A collaborative space is available for public reservation to conduct training or other meetings. Area inventors can learn about intellectual property and USPTO operations, and develop their own intellectual property, in a cost-effective manner.
The Dallas Regional Office also already offers significant benefits to area technology enterprise. The collaborative space may be reserved for enterprise technology training of examiners, to improve examiner knowledge regarding complex technologies and therefore patent examination quality. Regularly-scheduled “lunch and learns” cover a variety of fundamental topics such as intellectual property basics, patent protection and other intellectual property strategies, licensing and enforcement, and technology-related issues such as cybersecurity. “Speed dating” events for startups and venture capitalists are hosted in regional offices, as are roundtable discussions on issues of current widespread interest. Enterprises can therefore obtain information and guidance with reduced travel expense.
By all indications, the opening of the USPTO’s Dallas Regional Office has been a “screaming big deal,” and will pay off in substantial benefits to inventors and technology enterprises throughout Texas and surrounding states.