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Dispatch from Bizarro World: USPTO to open Detroit Office

By J. DeVoy

From the “putting a band-aid over a gaping wound” file, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is bringing more than 100 positions to Detroit, Michigan.  The same Detroit seen on the television show Detroit 187, a timely show about the city’s absurdly high murder rate, and the very same Michigan that has been in a one-state recession since at least 2004.

For patent attorneys and would-be patent attorneys affected by the economy, this is welcome news.  Over the last 5-10 years the boutique patent firm model has been folded into larger general-service firms, consolidating many clients and much of the talent within a comparatively small number of hands.  For those willing to brave, this may be an excellent opportunity.  Moreover, because it is federal employment, mobility is less of an issue — have any bar license, will travel.

There’s just the minor issue that… oh yeah, it’s in Detroit.  On that basis alone, I, someone who was in the 3L job search, would completely understand passing on the opportunity altogether.  Put the bootstraps rhetoric aside for a moment: This is creating 100 professional-level jobs in a city where the employees are more likely to be killed than anywhere else in the country.  Why not just put it in Mogadishu?  There’s the option of living in the suburbs, but not the truly nice ones if you have any student debt.  Your neighbors will be laid-off autoworker types who will resent the fancy-pants education you received like the people who took ‘der jerbs did, though you have a completely different degree and skill set.  I won’t even address the area’s schools.  The USPTO should have dropped all pretense and just said it was offering examiner jobs in Hell.

In fairness to a federal commitment to Southeast Michigan, this is not a bad idea.  It would have been more attractive and better executed, though, if done in an area entering decline in an effort to stave it off, rather than as a means to resuscitate the dead and rotten corpse of what used to be a city.  Google, for example, has capitalized on the University of Michigan’s intellectual capital by opening an office in Ann Arbor.  Given the level of research and innovation produced by the university, as well as the indisputable quality of its law school, Ann Arbor would have been an ideal choice for the USPTO’s branch office.

I have no desire to see Detroit or Michigan further deteriorate, but a USPTO branch office is not going to be a cure for what ails the city.  As a measure to stop any one area’s economic bleeding, Minneapolis, with its good law firms and four law schools, would have been an ideal choice.  More to the point, it is exciting to see the USPTO taking an expansive view of its role.  The opening of branch offices creates opportunities for those who would add value to the Office, but due to family or other commitments, cannot relocate to D.C.  From the USPTO’s own press release:

The office represents the first phase of the USPTO’s Nationwide Workforce Program, an effort to hire more patent examiners and seek out additional resources and technical expertise in locations across the country

Depending on how the branch offices work and where they are located, there will be interesting district-by-district distinctions in patent litigation.  Districts that had not seen many patent cases may end up with de novo challenges to registration disputes.  A new era of administrative gamesmanship may begin, as the stakes for jurisdictional posturing could be higher than ever.

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