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U.S. Patent Office prepares to open first satellite branch

Seal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: People who invent things in this country look to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect their ideas. But right now there's a big backlog. More than 700,000 applications waiting to be processed. As part of an effort to clear that logjam, the agency will open its first office outside Washington -- in Detroit.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reports.


SARAH HULETT: David Kappos is the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And his assessment of how long it takes to grant a patent is pretty blunt.

DAVID KAPPOS: In a word, it's too long.

Kappos says on average, it takes about two years just to get someone to read your application, then another year after that to hear whether you've been granted a patent.

KAPPOS: It's really a major economic drain valued at billions of dollars a year when the government is sitting on patent applications that are all about job creation and opportunity creation for our country.

Shawn Quinn understands the long wait for a patent all too well. Quinn is an engineer at General Motors. He's taking me through a door inside a cavernous testing facility at the company's proving ground, west of Detroit.

SHAWN QUINN: As you can tell, this room is quite quiet. Some of the testing I've personally worked on in here is modal testing on the next generation full-size pickup trucks. This is the room where we work on keeping our cars quiet and keeping them vibration-free.

That's Quinn's specialty. And he's submitted 18 patent applications related to that and other work over the past several years. He's been awarded four. But the rest hang in limbo -- including one for a concept that was shown to suppliers, to help GM figure out how to put it into production. That patent application was submitted in 2004.

QUINN: Two suppliers to date have looked at the execution, developed their production solution, have gone ahead and patented and received a U.S. filing on that. And we're the originators of the idea and we still do not have our own patent here.

The Detroit office will open this summer, and hire 100 patent examiners. Officials say they chose Detroit in part because the auto industry submits so many patent applications.

In Detroit, I'm Sarah Hulett for Marketplace.

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