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Tech Industry

Silicon Valley innovation gets its due with new patent office

New satellite location will focus federal attention on the tech region's inventors. Most business with the government will still take place online, but the office is meant to foster closer relationships.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There was a time, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo recalled Thursday, when people criticized the city government here for not getting a retail tenant in the downtown City Hall when it was constructed 10 years ago.

Now the US Patent and Trademark Office is opening up a satellite office here.

"It's fair to say this is a whole lot better than a Starbucks, isn't it?" Liccardo said Thursday to chuckles from the crowd of about 300 people who attended the office's official opening.

Michelle K. Lee, director of the US Patent and Trade Offce, shows off the new San Jose, California, office. Laura Hautala

The suit-and-tie crowd there understood the import of the moment, which paid homage to the region's clout as a seat of innovation in the United States and beyond. The patent office puts the federal government on the home turf of the companies that invent things, file and fight over patents, and make huge profits from their technology. Silicon Valley, and the West Coast more broadly, is getting credit these days as the engine of the United States economy.

Just last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping stopped in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, for a visit at Microsoft and Boeing before traveling east to meet with President Barack Obama. Around the same time, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters for a Q&A with CEO Mark Zuckerberg before heading to the United Nations in New York. The West Coast is also a frequent destination for national political candidates on fund-raising jaunts.

Until recently, though, companies, their inventors and their lawyers had to fly to Alexandria, Virginia, to talk face-to-face with patent examiners, something that Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Council, called a "tremendous pain in their assets."

The new patent office will eventually host more than 100 patent examiners and judges, but a lot of interactions will still take place with the officials judging patent applications in other satellite offices over interactive videoconference TV screens. Also, most people will continue to file their applications electronically, said Michelle K. Lee, director of the USPTO.

San Jose's new satellite office will also play host to briefings from local academics and industry specialists, meaning Silicon Valley's movers and shakers will be rubbing elbows with the patent office with much more frequency.

Samsung, which opened a new headquarters in San Jose this year, said through a representative that it looks forward to working with patent officials in Silicon Valley. "We believe this will further promote innovation and lead to more groundbreaking patents," the representative said.

Dallas and Denver join San Jose in playing host to the agency's satellite offices. The cities were selected after a 2011 patent reform bill set aside money for three such offices. Four members of the US House of Representatives from California spoke at the event Thursday, including Republican Darrell Issa, the lone conservative in the group of lawmakers that pushed for the local office.

In a rare moment of bipartisan harmony, Issa shared a glass of champagne onstage with Democrats Zoe Lofgren, Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda and others before Lee took a pair of bolt cutters to a metal "ribbon" to officially open the office.