Driving Innovation Forward

July 11, 2012

By Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), and Mike Honda (D-Campbell)

Last week, Silicon Valley celebrated the announcement that a new regional patent office will be located in the heart of America's innovation hub. With Wednesday's visit by Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank to the San Jose metro area, the first steps are being taken to make a Silicon Valley patent office a reality.

We welcome the secretary with high fives and fist bumps. Where else but Silicon Valley, the place where ideas have launched leading companies like Apple, Facebook, Intel, Google, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, would people react with so much enthusiasm to a new patent office?

The innovation of entrepreneurs is tied directly to the confidence they have in putting their creative ideas to work through an efficient and functioning patent system. Only then can they attract the capital needed to expand their ventures, creating jobs and economic growth for our community and our country in the process. The potential for growth is staggering.

A recent report from the Commerce Department highlights how important an efficient, functioning patent system is for America's success in the 21st century economy. In 2010, intellectual property-intensive industries were the source — directly or indirectly — of 40 million jobs, contributing $5.06 trillion to the U.S. economy. Imagine the boost to our economy, not to mention our global competitiveness, when the Silicon Valley patent office opens its doors with its full benefits just a short drive away.

Silicon Valley is the No. 1 one patent generator in the country, accounting for 12 percent of all U.S. registered patents in 2010. California produces 1 out of every 4 registered patents in the country.

While Silicon Valley is leading innovation, the not-so-good news is that the U.S. patent system is not living up to its full potential. There is currently a backlog of 620,000 patent applications, in addition to the 500,000 new patent applications received every year. This translates into more than a three-year wait time, impairing innovation and delaying products from coming to market.

In today's nanosecond world, this represents more than a nuisance or a stumbling block. It can mean the difference between an idea getting off the drawing board, and a young enterprise going from the kitchen table or garage to an IPO.

Bringing a patent office to Silicon Valley took more than good wishes and persuasive arguments. This was a hard-won victory, with other areas in the country competing vigorously. We joined forces in a team effort with Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed; with business community partners, including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; and with San Jose State University, all with the shared goal of bringing a patent office to Silicon Valley.

The new office will be especially important for startups that have tremendous potential, but often limited resources. They can't afford to hire legions of lawyers to travel across the country to the Patent Office headquarters in Alexandria, Va. With the new Silicon Valley office, small businesses and entrepreneurs will be able to directly access new resources in their own backyard, learn how to navigate the patent process, meet with examiners, and safeguard their ideas.

The Silicon Valley congressional delegation is proud to have led the effort for a patent office in our region, and after all the champagne corks pop, we're confident that a new chapter of innovation will mark the second decade of the 21st century right here at home.

Published in the July 11th, 2012 edition of the San Jose Mercury News.