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A Brief History of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Denver

Digitization and diligence first brought the office to Colorado


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When an entrepreneur invents something, it then becomes the inventor’s intellectual property. Patents and trademarks are typically used to protect the entrepreneur, and for more than 220 years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been granting those legal protections.

Until 2014, the USPTO operated for centuries from a single location in Washington, D.C. area.  For a period, the USPTO accepted patent models.  For another period, the USPTO also maintained prior art  ̶  a term used to refer to documents, things or processes that already exist  ̶  in file drawers called “shoeboxes.” This was the most efficient for all that information to be stored in a central location for access by patent examiners. Over time, varying levels of individual financial resources, mobility and education on the process placed limitations on the number of inventors able to obtain a patent or trademark.

Like all industries, the patent and trademark industry changed dramatically in the digital era. Today, prior art is stored in a digital format that can be remotely accessed by USPTO examiners and representatives anywhere.

When this evolution was complete, a group of leaders in Colorado representing the public, private and government sectors came together to launch a successful campaign to create a stronger innovation ecosystem in the U.S, right here in Colorado. Collectively, these individuals appealed to the USPTO and the presidential administration to create satellite offices in various regions around the country – including one in Denver.

Bringing the USPTO to the state was a long road with several dips and twists and turns. A great many organizations and people supported this project and were integral to successfully demonstrating that centralization was no longer necessary nor advisable. New legislation called the America Invents Act (AIA) including the Satellite Patent Office Amendment (introduced by Senator Bennet), which required USPTO to embrace the regional satellite model, was signed into law in September 2011.

The Colorado coalition of leaders then went to work to position Colorado – with its 24 federally funded research laboratories, four major research universities and significant number of startups – as the right location for one of the new locations. Local business leaders, attorneys and economic development entities worked together to create a compelling business case for the selection of Denver and then passed the baton to the state’s representatives in Washington to carry it over the finish line.

Senator Bennett, then-Governor Hickenlooper, Mayor Hancock, then-Representative Polis, Representative DeGette, Representative Perlmutter, then-CU Law Dean Phil Weiser and the entire Colorado delegation did everything they could to let the administration know that a USPTO satellite office belonged in Colorado. The USPTO received more than 500 submissions from over 50 cities in 35 states hoping to be chosen. The tireless efforts of our local elected officials on both sides of the aisle were effective, when in July 2012, Denver  ̶  alongside Silicon Valley, Dallas and Detroit  ̶  was awarded a satellite patent and trademark office.  The Denver satellite office opened in July 2014. This year marks the five-year anniversary of the successful culmination of those bipartisan efforts.

Since 2014 when the Rocky Mountain Patent and Trademark Office (RMPTO) opened, there as been a meaningful increase in innovation in the state and across the Rocky Mountain region. The office has engaged with more than 90,000 stakeholders, created 209 jobs, hosted more than 1,200 outreach events and granted more than 5,000 new patents.

Today, the RMPTO serves innovation where it is occurring and provides valuable outreach support. The country’s satellite offices have also broadened that talent pool for qualified examiners who might balk at living in the Beltway.  

Thanks to the efforts of countless men and women, Colorado’s innovation ecosystem has been broadened geographically, demographically and economically. As stated at a recent five-year anniversary event, the RMPTO efforts represent Colorado at its best – a community committed to collaboration and getting things done.

John Posthumus is a shareholder in the intellectual property practice at Polsinelli PC and one of three local attorneys who donated more than 1,000 pro bono hours to support the initiative to bring the USPTO to Denver.

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