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Michigan means innovation

December 24, 2010
By Sen. Carl Levin

WASHINGTON - As 2010 comes to a close, Michigan has gotten some great news for our economy and the strength of technical innovation in our state.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced on Dec. 16 that Detroit would be home to the first-ever satellite office of the U.S. Trade and Patent Office, the government agency that grants the patents and trademarks that give legal protection to the innovations that help make our economy grow. This decision will bring more than 100 high-skill jobs to our state in the first year, and it will help Michigan businesses and innovators get their new ideas and products to market more quickly.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the entire Michigan congressional delegation and many others worked hard to make sure Secretary Locke and others who made this decision were aware of Michigan's many strengths. The new jobs in Southeast Michigan are of course very welcome. But the significance of Michigan's selection for this regional office reaches beyond the initial jobs our state will gain.

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Sen. Carl Levin

First, this choice speaks volumes about the innovation that is already taking place in our state, and the strong workforce that Michigan offers. Michigan is one of America's most important centers of high-tech innovation; since 2001, more than 31,000 patents have been granted to Michigan applicants, the fifth highest total in the nation. Those patents come from our automakers Ford, GM, and Chrysler as well as from auto parts companies such as Delphi and Lear. But they also come from universities all across our state; from drug and biotech companies such as Kalamazoo's Pfizer; from chemical companies such as Dow and Dow Corning in Midland; and from furniture makers such as La-Z-Boy in Monroe.

It's also an endorsement of Michigan workers and education. Commerce Department and USPTO officials cited the high percentage of scientists and engineers in the local workforce, and the great access to institutions of higher education that Detroit offered as factors that made Michigan a good choice for the satellite office.

This decision gives Michigan a first-in-the-nation opportunity to enjoy the benefits of this office for local companies and inventors. The office is part of a pilot program by USPTO to reduce the time needed to process patent or trademark applications. The faster innovators can get protection for their work, the faster they can get it to market.

Why are patents and trademarks so important? Michigan companies have learned, at times painfully, why they matter. A patent allows a company with a new product to market that product without the fear that competitors will steal their idea. Without patent protection, there is less incentive to research and develop new ideas, because competitors could benefit just as much as innovators from all the time and effort spent in developing that idea.

Under Secretary Locke and USPTO Director David Kappos, patent and trademark officials have reduced a backlog of about 750,000 patent applications to under 700,000 in just a year. By adding new patent examiners, and by putting them in regional offices in centers of innovation such as Michigan, USPTO believes it can reduce that backlog more quickly.

Michigan's selection for the first regional satellite patent office is a testament to the wealth of engineering talent and innovation in our state. There was plenty of competition, from more than a dozen cities across the country, and this choice shows just how much respect there is nationally for the important and ground-breaking work that happens every day in Michigan. Michigan companies and Michigan workers will gain important benefits from this decision.

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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 
 

 

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