New patent office signals region's role in innovation
Op-ed for The Detroit News, February 7, 2012
"Patent pending" has a whole new meaning for Michigan.
The recent announcement by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that it will open a satellite office in downtown Detroit is the latest indicator of our state's economic resurgence.
The location of a federal office that reviews and grants patents may not have the sizzle of a high-tech firm locating to Michigan, or a local start-up company securing millions in venture capital, but in reality it is vital for inventors, and is one more critical piece of the growing innovation infrastructure in our state.
Patent activity is a barometer of creativity, and Michigan is sixth in the nation for patents granted by the government.
The auto industry is, of course, a major contributor to this activity. Michigan leads the country in patents for powertrain, safety, material technologies and more. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Lear, Delphi, Dow Corning and others consistently create new materials, tools and devices.
But our region's innovation reaches far beyond wheels and metal forming.
Scientists and inventors in Michigan's University Research Corridor — the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Michigan State University — are responsible for making our state the third-most vibrant university corridor in the country. Only Silicon Valley and Massachusetts' Route 128 region generate more patent activity.
University researchers are creating, and patenting, biomedical devices, nanoemulsion vaccines, solar cells, biosensors, Web-based writing tools, and hybrid seeds and plants. Some 135 patents are issued annually to University Research Corridor inventors, and the activity is trending upward.
For scientists and inventors across our state, a local patent office assists with technology transfer, helping to commercialize discoveries and inventions, move them into the marketplace and spur economic development.
In addition to our region's manufacturing heritage and strong universities, the federal government selected Detroit for its satellite patent office for a third reason: the high-tech talent necessary to review patent applications. More than 100 jobs come with this new office, examiner positions that require expertise in engineering, science, math and technology.
The selection of Michigan as the Patent Office's first-ever satellite office sends a powerful signal to the nation that we continue to develop intellectual property and translate it into products that are relevant in today's global marketplace. Not only will this new office benefit the government by the timely processing of patent applications, it also will advance approvals of new creations from inventors both inside and out of our universities.
The Detroit patent office will locate in a riverfront building that once housed the Parke-Davis Laboratories and the headquarters of Stroh Brewery Co. The office itself will be named for Elijah J. McCoy, the 19th century Ypsilanti inventor who held more than 50 patents and literally was "the real McCoy." The names and location point both to Michigan's heritage — and future — of innovation and invention.
Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan; Allan D. Gilmour is president of Wayne State University; Lou Anna Simon is president of Michigan State University.