What do a medicinal face mask, a vehicle parking system and a pet toy squirrel have in common? They were all created and recently patented by inventors in North Texas. Every year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office receives hundreds of thousands of applications; so many, it’s hard to keep up.
A growing backlog of applications is part of the reason the agency opened a satellite office — one of only a handful in the country — in Dallas two years ago. The office has done much more than chip away at a backlog of inventions. Some entrepreneurs took advantage of the resource, and benefited financially.
Meeting place for entrepreneurs
Patent examiners sift through applications for all types of ideas — from technology for self-driving cars to design models for sporks. In recent years, these examiners have been overwhelmed with applications, hence the idea to open up regional offices and recruit examiners from across the country.
Joseph Matal, interim director of the agency, explained the concept at a recent event put on by the Dallas Regional Chamber.
“So the thinking was, 'Let’s go out to real America, and we can get these scientists and engineers [...] to come and be patent examiners.'”
It worked. The goal was to recruit 80 patent examiners in Dallas — 101 were hired. But the regional office has also become a meeting place and resource for people in the North Texas startup community.
Entrepreneur Will Rosellini says, unlike other government offices, he actually wanted to visit this one.
“My impression was that they were there to help, and that’s different because a lot of times you you think about an government office and they’re in an administrative function,” Rosellini said. “They provided an enormous amount of advice that was different than a patent lawyer explaining how to write a patent.”
Getting feedback, saving money
In the last two years, Rosellini met with patent examiners, face-to-face, more than a dozen times — for free — to talk about the technology behind his startup, Nexeon MedSystems.
Nexeon created an implantable medical device to help treat symptoms of Parkinson’s through electrical stimulation of the brain. Rosellini says Nexeon’s technology builds on the decades-old idea of alleviating tremors with brain stimulation.
“Usually, you would apply electricity [to the brain] but not listen to the body to see how it reacted," Rosellini said. “So what we have done is stimulate or actively treat the body but record at the same time from the nervous system, and then we can select stimulation parameters that make it more patient specific.”
The idea is getting feedback from the patient to help fine-tune the electric stimulation. Rosellini's big business question was: Which aspects of the invention needed to be patented, and what could be open source for researchers to use? He says examiners helped him figure that out, saving him a lot of money.
“On an hourly basis, [we] saved at least $20,000 or $30,000 in legal fees. But on a strategy basis, if we made the right decisions, it could be millions of dollars that we uncovered with their thinking through the strategy with us,” Rosellini said.
Spotlight on North Texas
Hilda Galvan, a trial lawyer who oversees the Dallas office of the global law firm Jones Day, said the regional office helps lure companies to North Texas.
“For some reason, there's a perception that in Texas if there’s technology, it’s going to be in Austin,” Galvan said. “By having the patent office here [...] it’s been very helpful in emphasizing or highlighting the technology and innovation we have in North Texas.”
North Texas inventors are granted dozens of patents each week. In November, those included everything from an apparatus for spooling wire, to a pet toy squirrel. The latest patents issued out of North Texas are summarized online at Dallas Innovates every week.
Hope Shimabuku, the Texas Regional Office director says right now most patents filed in Texas are related to oil and drilling or the semiconductor industry. Although with the Toyota headquarters in Plano moving in, she expects to see more automotive patents.