For the first time since it opened in 1790, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is expanding outside of Washington, D.C. The agency – which has a team of more than 8,000 patent examiners – has established regional offices in four cities across the United States, including Dallas.
For many inventors, it’s magical when an idea becomes a number. For Dallas entrepreneur, Peter Bastawros, the number was 9138638. And the idea? Bring technology to the very traditional game of golf.
The product is called Game Cart Golf, and it uses video and other technology so players can compete with friends who may not even be on the green.
“Folks can be following along either in other carts, back in the clubhouse, in a kiosk or online,” Bastawros said.
This idea, though, almost never became 9138638. When Bastawros’ attorney sent the paperwork to the patent office, they waited 21 months for a response.
That response was a full rejection.
“I had to brace myself there and not allow it to become a deterrent,” Bastawros said.
He would spend an additional several thousand dollars before finally getting his idea patented.
There are lots of obstacles in the patenting process – money, time, knowledge. Every year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office receives hundreds of thousands of applications. There’s a backlog of more than 550,000 ideas that need to be sifted through.
The head of the agency – Google veteran Michelle Lee – hopes hiring more patent officers and stationing them at outposts across the country will speed up the process. The four regional offices that have opened are in Denver, Detroit, San Jose and Dallas.
The Dallas office will employ 80 patent examiners – meaning for the first time, applicants in the region won’t have to travel to the beltway if they want to meet face-to-face with their assigned examiners.
“If you’re an applicant, the ability to sit down and look your patent examiner in the eye, to point to diagrams, to explain your invention, makes a huge difference in terms of customer satisfaction but also the quality and the speed with which you get the patent,” Lee said.
The other benefit to having a neighborhood patent office? Instant access to an exclusive database. If you want to research patents from your home computer, you have to register as an independent inventor and wait for approval to see the details of your competitors’ inventions.
Bastawros waited almost a month before he could start investigating and drafting his golf tech invention. With the workstations at the new Dallas office, he said he could have saved time.
“I would have immediately been able to go and search detailed information on patents without needing that registration process,” he said.
Inventor and patent lawyer Bob Schmidt said it’s a little early to say these are a panacea. Schmidt waits anywhere from six to eight years on patents for biomedical devices. He said there needs to be more funding for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and lower fees for inventors. Still, he said, the regional bureaus aren’t a bad start.
With all four satellite offices now open, the infrastructure is in. Just two centuries after President George Washington had the idea to begin with.
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