'The Patent Office', the 'United States Patent and Trademark Office', 'USPTO', 'Patent Office', these among others are sometimes used to refer to the American patent office in Alexandria VA. Located at 'Crystal Palace'. The USPTO Wikipedia entry provides nice detail.
The patent office has initiated a new drive to decentralize. They had plans to open in Detroit in 2011 but had to scale back for now due to budget constraints as reported in Patent Docs. However, one should expect the future to bring a patent office or two to other new locations about the US. Perhaps Silicon Valley in California could use one.
I am not sure of the advantages this might bring. I think Detroit was chosen more for its desperate need for new jobs rather than any strategic advantage this might yield for patent users. This is a shame as social engineering rarely produces the intended results – while costing patent users even more money. I am not in favor of the USPTO spending for the sake of helping downtrodden communities of America, I think the USPTO should spend their money advancing the cause on invention and inventors. Full stop. Inventors and American innovation have considerable expenses as it is, helping Detroit along isn't likely to benefit American innovation.
The USPTO has a rather bad reputation in at least two regards including: 1) the backlog of unexamined patents is extensive. 2) the quality of examination, especially for complex inventions like software and biotech. The good news is, we now have a fantastic commissioner who knows how to crack the whip. If you can vote for just one thing, vote for Commissioner Kappos to stay in office for a long time. His changes are really starting to shape things up over there. Long overdue – coming now.
The patent office has the primary function of receiving and examining patent applications – and granting patents. Applicants, generally through their professional counsel submit invention disclosures as patent applications and those applications are subject to review and examination. This process is done as an 'adversarial process' where an Examiner takes the position of the people to argue against patentability and the applicant argues in favor of patentability. Fortunately, the Examiner 'loses' in most cases and a patent is issued. Patent examination can take many years and it is sometimes expensive. Careful and diligent prosecution can lead to a good result, but this is rarely fast and easy.