It came as a surprise to Boulder-based entrepreneur Jennifer Spencer when she heard how long it could take for a design patent for her Agloves touchscreen gloves to receive approval.
Ballpark: three years.
At the time she submitted the application -- in September 2011 -- the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was working through 700,000 patent applications in its pipeline.
"Apparently, there are remedies, but it's still a long time for things to happen," Spencer said. "It opens up some risk for us. ... We just have to keep saying, 'patent-pending,' 'patent-pending.'"
Such a wait is not uncommon -- in certain cases, three years actually is fairly good -- but the delays have created uncertainty for Spencer and many others as they bide their time for the papers that could bring further validation, security and financial stability to their ideas. The inefficiencies in U.S. patent processes could suppress innovation and economic growth, some businesspeople and politicians have argued.
"That delay, that lag really lessens the value of the whole patent process," said Michael L. Drapkin, a local Holland & Hart attorney who -- along with fellow patent attorneys Tom Franklin, of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, and John Posthumus, of Sheridan Ross P.C. -- has spent the past four years lobbying for a patent office in Colorado.
Recent steps taken to reform the nation's patent system include -- for the first time in history -- the opening of satellite patent offices across the United States in Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit and San Jose, Calif., to bolster the work being done at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in Virginia.
The Detroit office, which was announced in 2010, opened two weeks ago. The selections of Denver, Dallas-Forth Worth and San Jose were announced earlier this month.
The decision to have Denver house one of those offices has local businesses, educators, patent attorneys and
lawmakers bullish about the effects on Colorado's economy and for "innovation hubs" such as Boulder County, which ranks 30th in the nation in the number of patents granted from 2006 to 2010.
"I think that opening up a Denver office will greatly increase the amount of innovation that goes on in the Denver/Boulder area," said Brett Huston, vice president of human resources and general counsel for Boulder-based data storage firm Spectra Logic Corp. "To actually say that Denver and the central part of the western United States is a major hub of innovation, it's only going to draw a tremendous number of highly paid positions and people to this area."
Colorado's economic benefit from a satellite patent office in Denver could be in the realm of $439 million in the first five years, according to a study by University of Colorado researchers.
"It's a huge opportunity for innovative companies; it makes their lives easier, too," said Phil Weiser, dean of CU's Law School. "...I believe this office is going to continue to reverberate positively for Colorado and will be a good advertisement for Colorado."
The Denver office also could spur some ripple effects, including growth in patent attorneys and sub-sectors to the patent industry and also increases in venture capital, said Brian Lewandowski, a research associate in the Business Research Division at CU's Leeds School of Business.
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