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Google-Qualcomm Patent Fight Enters Silicon Valley Arena

Google Inc. (GOOG) and Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM), two California technology companies on opposite sides of a Washington debate over U.S. patent law, may soon take their fight closer to home.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is pushing forward with plans to open a fully operational satellite office in San Jose, after Congressional budget cuts put them on hold earlier this year. The work-around came about after San Jose city officials pledged free rent and California donated $500,000.

The permanent office, which may open by the end of next year, will be where West Coast inventors submit applications to get legal protection for their ideas. It will also serve as a hub where companies -- even startups -- can bring their positions on patent law directly to the administration without a cross-country flight.

“It will mean an easier and clearer channel of communication both ways -- from the PTO to the public and from the public to the PTO,” said Michelle Lee, a former Google executive who’s now director of the Silicon Valley office.

California inventors were named in 32,107 patents, more than a quarter of the 121,026 issued to U.S. inventors in 2012.

60 Patent Examiners

The agency’s temporary location, at an office in Menlo Park, houses Lee and nine administrative law judges who hear arguments about the validity of issued patents. With a permanent space, the patent office plans to have a total staff of more than 80, with 20 judges and 60 patent examiners.

The 40,000-square-foot permanent office will be in San Jose City Hall, where city officials offered free rent for two years, then three years of reduced rent and five years at market price. In addition, the California assembly gave the agency $500,000 to be used for things like its educational outreach. Offers of money from local technology companies were turned down because they do business with the PTO, Lee said.

Congressional Legislation

A key role in the patent office is in helping develop administration policy on intellectual property. The technology industry is split on proposals before Congress that could change the rules for patent litigation. Palo Alto, California-based Google is backing the proposals. Qualcomm, based at the southern end of the state in San Diego, says some of the ideas being considered could curtail innovation, particularly by startups.

Both companies are funding lobbying groups that are trying to influence Congress. Smaller companies in Silicon Valley don’t always have that option. Lee said the local office has already held roundtable discussions about policy regarding patents on software.

Being in the heart of the America’s technology industry “made it much easier for smaller companies, startup companies to participate rather than requiring folks to come to Washington D.C.,” Lee said.  The office “has a key role in helping out the agency and the administration in that area.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Susan Decker in Washington at sdecker1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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