New patent office hopes to bring more focus on small businesses

The Texas Regional Office of the United States Patent and Trademark Office opened Nov. 9 in Dallas. (Photo by Jeff Isaacs/USPTO)

For small business owner Howard Rattliff, the opening of the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Dallas couldn’t have come at a better time.

Rattliff owns Fort Worth-based database development company Compulabs, Etc., and he and his son are looking to see if the software they developed can be patented. While software’s eligibility for a patent is still under debate, Rattliff says the new patent office can make it easier for small businesses to gain a better understanding of the patent process.

“As a prospective patent applicant, that would be very important to have, not only the regional resources but the examiner situated in a more local assignment for my path,” he said.

The Texas Regional Office officially opened Nov. 9. The office, located in the Terminal Annex Federal Building in downtown Dallas, will not only serve Texas but also Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

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USPTO Deputy Director Russell Slifer said the regional office should better cater to startups and smaller business looking to get patents for their inventions.

“The small companies are really fuel for our economy as a whole and big job creators,” Slifer said. “The more we can help them be successful, the better the communities will grow.”

The new office will create about 100 new patent examiner jobs, Slifer said.

So far, over 700 people have applied to be patent examiners in the Dallas office, said Drew Hirshfeld, USPTO commissioner for patents.

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To help inventors and businesses through the patent process, the office will offer a number of resources for patent applicants, including video telecommunication tools that would allow face-to-face communication between patent applicants and examiners if they were unable to meet in person.

The Dallas office is the last of four regional patent offices to open across each continental U.S. time zone. The other regional offices are found in Detroit, Denver and San Jose.

One of the reasons USPTO opened the regional offices was to cut down on the backlog of patent applications, as requested by Congress, Slifer said. Although the USPTO has over 8,000 patent examiners, the agency was still having difficulty handling the large number of applications it was receiving.

“We’ve had difficulty over the years finding new talent for the number of people that we need,” Slifer said. “These are patent examiners with technical scientific backgrounds. Opening regional offices across the country allows us to reach communities of employees that we weren’t able to reach before.”

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Rattliff said his only concern about the new office is how the work will be distributed to make the patent process more efficient, but he believes opening a new office is a step in the right direction.

“It’s definitely better than having to go to Washington, D.C.,” he said.