David Kappos is the new Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Mr. Kappos was previously the vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property at IBM. He was nominated by President Barack Obama in June of this year, and was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate on August 7, 2009. Mr. Kappos' duties will include advising the President, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Administration about intellectual property matters.
Mr. Kappos graduated from the University of California-Davis in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of California Berkeley in 1990. He began working for IBM in 1983, where he started out as a development engineer before moving on to working as an intellectual property law attorney in IBM's Storage Division and Litigation group, IP Law Counsel in IBM's Software Group, assistant general counsel for IBM Asia/Pacific, IBM Corporate Counsel, and assistant general counsel. Mr. Kappos has served in various leadership positions in numerous professional organizations, including the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the Intellectual Property Owner's Association, the International Intellectual Property Society, and other intellectual property law associations in the US and Asia.
Mr. Kappos recently spoke at the Annual Meeting of the American Intellectual Property Law Association regarding his vision for the future of the USPTO. He stressed the importance of intellectual property to the economy, noting that “American business sectors that rely most heavily on IP protection already account for 5 trillion dollars of GDP and they employ 18 million workers.” He stated that, “[i]n order to assist the businesses, innovators, and inventors that create American jobs, the USPTO must be a model in the world for IP administration and protection.” Key to this model are application pendency, examination quality, IT infrastructure, and the protection and enforcement of IP rights.
Mr. Kappos discussed the USPTO's commitment “to develop rules that improve efficiency and effectiveness, reduce pendency, and yield higher quality patents, without exacting a penalty on America's innovators.” He committed to reforming the count system, which is the system by which the performance of examiners is measured. Some have criticized the count system as encouraging examiners to hastily reject applications without taking the proper time to fully examine them, and for incentivizing the issuing of final rejections prompting multiple continuing applications. Mr. Kappos announced changes to the count system that will “give examiners more time for a first action on the merits, and time for examiner-initiated interviews. The new system will allow examiners to get it right the first time. The new system will also reduce the credit given for multiple continuing applications.”
The goal with these changes is to “put the emphasis on improving quality on the front end of an examination and prevent unnecessary re-do work, while also recognizing that continuation practice remains a necessary and important component of the application process in many cases.” Mr. Kappos believes that “these changes will improve quality of examinations and give examiners the time and resources they need to make the right decision the first time. They may also have the added benefit of reducing pendency.”
Mr. Kappos also discussed the backlog of pending applications, which currently numbers nearly 800,000 applications. He stated that the USPTO is taking several steps to reduce the backlog, including through improving the count system, as discussed above; “improving examiner-applicant communication; reengineering the offices handling of the examination process more generally; modernizing our IT infrastructure; and increasing work-sharing and harmonization with other patent offices.” Regarding work-sharing and harmonization with other patent offices, Mr. Kappos noted that international filings have recently increased dramatically. In many cases, the USPTO ends up examining an application that has already been examined in another country. Work-sharing would “prevent the USPTO from doubling up on the efforts of our overseas partner offices.” The USPTO has already seen positive results from its Patent Prosecution Highway pilot program with the Japanese Patent Office, which is one of its key work-sharing vehicles.
Mr. Kappos concluded by announcing that he is making his Director's blog available to the public through the USPTO's website, www.uspto.gov. He stated that “[i]t's important for everyone in the IP community to know what's going on at the USPTO and to have open channels through which you can effectively provide input to the USPTO. The new USPTO is open for business, and we're open for comment, criticism, and dialogue.”
Also joining the USPTO are the new Deputy Director of the USPTO and Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for IP, Sharon Barner, and the new Commissioner for Patents, Bob Stoll. Ms. Barner was formerly a partner with a large law firm, where she chaired their IP department. Mr. Stoll has worked at the USPTO for over 27 years, first as a patent examiner, then supervisory patent examiner, head of the Office of Legislative and International Affairs, and Dean of the USPTO training academy.