Detroit beats Silicon Valley in opening first-ever patent office outside Washington, D.C.

Melissa Anders|MLive

Detroit is now home to the nation’s first satellite patent office, a nod to the city and Michigan’s leadership in innovation.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially opened the Elijah J. McCoy Satellite Office in Detroit on Friday.

The office will employ about 120 people to help speed up the patent process, which faces a backlog of about 600,000 applications.

The USPTO announced this month that it plans to open additional offices, based on the Detroit model, in or around Dallas, Denver and Silicon Valley, California. Those offices, along with Detroit’s, are the result of the America Invents Act of 2011.

“The people of Detroit have time and time again been the very sort of pioneers who have shaped our country and continue to shape our country with innovative audacity,” David Kappos, director of the USPTO, said on Friday.

The office is named after Michigan inventor Elijah J. McCoy, the son of fugitive slaves, who secured 57 U.S. patents around the turn of the century. The phrase “real McCoy” is said to have originated from the popularity of the oil drip cup he invented for locomotive engines.

Many speakers paid homage to the importance Detroit’s automotive past, present and future.

The state’s talent goes beyond that, said University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

“Today, human intellect is our economic engine and it is firing on all cylinders,” said Coleman said.

Michigan’s research universities make the state the third most vibrant university corridor the country behind only Silicon Valley and Boston, she said.

Yet it is Detroit, not Silicon Valley or other areas, that the federal government chose as the location for its first satellite patent office.

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said she recently told folks in Silicon Valley, “If you work really hard, maybe in a few years you might catch up to Detroit. They didn’t appreciate that.”

California’s Silicon Valley region does have the Detroit area, and the rest of the nation, beat onnumber of patents. It boasted 40,446 patents from 2006 to 2010, compared to the Detroit area’s 9,964.

Detroit’s number is still more than all but 10 metropolitan areas in the country.

Of the 108,626 patents granted and originated in the United States last year, 3,964 came from Michigan. Another 115,879 were granted by the USPTO but originated from inventors in foreign countries.

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