Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fresh Wind in DC

A fresh wind blows in D.C. — there has been a multi-level reset; good excuse for a multi-level post, which I have not done for a while.

George Washington Masonic Memorial

Across the Potomac river from the White House palace lies the town of Alexandria. As the taxi rolls off the Beltway, the driver notes the many police patrol cars. He explains a couple of days ago three kids shot and killed a taxi driver right here. All they got was a hundred dollars cash and a GPS. He continues, from the economic meltdown and all the money flowing into bailouts, there is not more a bad or a good part of town, crime is way up all over town.

We are in the part of town between Duke Street and Eisenhower Avenue, formerly called Spring Garden Farm. It is located just beyond the town old Corporation limits — and was of course exempt from taxation — along a major commercial artery, Little River Turnpike. It was the site of the Duke Street Tanyard.

Duke Street Tanyard, Alexandria West End

Peter Wise, a city councilman and tanner, established the Duke Street Tanyard by 1797. The business was situated near a stone bridge on the east bank of Hooff's Run by West End Village. The tannery's ownership and name changed many times: Quakers operated the large tannery from 1812 until it was destroyed by fire in 1853.

West End, Alexandria's first suburb, was a processing center for cattle, which were brought here for slaughter and butchering. The hides were then taken to the tannery to be processed into leather by soaking them in solutions of lime, tree bark and animal dung. The tanned hides were curried by oiling, scrapping and pounding and then made into saddles, harnesses and boots.

Carlyle District, USPTO administration building

Today, this area is very different and has been renamed to Carlyle District. Of course some very bad things like slaughter and butchering still happen here today, as in the building below. In the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse the government deals with the worst of its citizens.

Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse

However, the mindful visitor notes the Carlyle District is the habitat for a very different human being than the West End was. People walk in and out from the many huge office buildings at every hour of the night or day, seven days a week. They have the fast and decisive gait of busy professionals, scientists and engineers.

Whole Foods Market

All around are fancy condominium towers, and the Whole Foods Market is an order of magnitude larger than the one in posh Palo Alto, which was their first store outside Texas and filled the entire former Oldsmobile dealership. The deli food section is particularly large and multi-cultural, a sure sign for a very busy customer base.

Are we looking at the main Microsoft or Google campus? No, those are on the West Coast.

James Madison Building

Let us check out the monument in front of the main building. The geodesic dome must have a plaque with the sponsoring company name.

Geodesic dome

Oh!, everything in the Carlyle District is labeled with an inventor name and a patent number. Well, almost everything; some establishments may have an actual name, like the bar and grille for the lawyers doing business in the courthouse:

Trademark Bar

Yes Virginia, the Carlyle district is the home of the United States Patent And Trademark Office

Carlyle district map

and most buildings carry the sign below, even when they are not light blue in the map above. It seems a new building goes up every year.

USPTO sign

So, what is this fresh wind? The USPTO in Alexandria has nothing to do with the old USPTO that was across the Potomac river in D.C. It is not a bureaucratic entity, but an engine of growth provided by the Department of Commerce for the benefit of society.

The USPTO now offers many services for those who want to contribute to society through technology. Check out their web site at and you will be pleasantly surprised at the many available services to make you and your technology business successful.

As you see right up on top at the right side of their home page, the USPTO is hiring. It is maybe the last organization in the U.S. hiring technologists in these troubled times.

Today's examiners are skilled scientists and engineers. They work in modern closed offices with the latest and best tools; gone are the shoes from yesteryear. They research each application with the same competence, skill, and care as the technologist who wrote the application.

Despite all the new services, the main function of the Patent Office is to protect the inventors of a technology so they can recuperate their research investment. This is especially important today.

The lesson learned from the lost decade in Japan after their bubble economy burst in 1993, is that the way a society digs itself out of a deep economic crisis is that companies start investing in new manufacturing equipment so they can produce products superior to those of the competition. It is a slow spiral and it is powered by technology.

Therefore, hurry up and make a breakthrough invention, then rush to Alexandria

Carlyle district sign

and file a patent application.

USPTO customer service window

The lesson from Japan is why it is good to see that the USPTO is still actively hiring.

However, when you stroll the streets of the Carlyle district or choose your meal at the Whole Foods Market's vast deli, you hear troubling things. The budget is very tight, and the managers are struggling. Some training is deferred and the support personnel is scarce. There is a sense of urgency and apprehension in the air.

The government needs its money to bail out the industry. There is a fear that the snakes in suits have come up with a new milking scheme. Instead of grabbing the consumers by the ankles and shaking out the money in their pockets, they now go to the government for a bailout and let the government take the taxpayers by the ankles and shake out their money.

If this becomes the new modus operandi, then we are doomed. If you encounter a snake in suit take action. These entrepreneurial pretenders are only a small minority of the executives, the other 96.5% are genuine. Make sure they put their technologists on the spiral out of this economic crisis.

A stop sign does not mean that you should fall asleep on the wheel. After you stopped, looked for crossing traffic and pedestrians, and checked your destination, press on. Urgently, please…

stop, but then move on

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