Rea (right) completed her last day as acting director at the
USPTO last Friday. This has left the top two
leadership positions at the office open.
It is not like the administration did not see this coming.
Rea announced in September that she would be leaving. Former
director David Kappos departed in January, meaning there has
been months to find a replacement.
The office is now leaderless, a situation that is causing
grave concern in the IP community. Peggy Focarino, commissioner
for patents at the Office, has taken over the duties of the
director while the search for a permanent appointment
The lack of an appointment of a USPTO director is especially
worrying at a time when important patent reform is being
"This is becoming a crisis situation," Todd Dickinson,
executive director of the AIPLA, told me this week. Dickinson
contrasts this with his appointment process as USPTO director
in 1999, which took a couple of months. The situation now is
more like that when there is a change of administration, he
One possible positive development is Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid’s decision to trigger the so-called
nuclear option to remove the filibuster from judicial nominees
to federal courts and presidential executive branch
nominations. "Maybe the nuclear option will make it easier to
approve an appointment and more attractive to potential
appointees," says Dickinson.
It is possible the administration has someone in line. But
it is not clear who that might be. When Managing IP assessed
potential candidates back in September, some popular names
were mentioned. Bob Armitage, former general counsel at Eli
Lilly, was considered a strong choice but has removed himself
from consideration. Former commissioner for patents Nick
Godici, past deputy commissioner for patents Esther Kepplinger,
and Microsoft senior director of patent prosecution strategy
Edward Kazenske have also been suggested as potential strong
candidates. And there are other names doing the rounds.
With patent litigation reform on the horizon, the
ever-present question of the Office’s budget being
analysed in Congress and the need for involvement on the
international stage, the USPTO needs a leader to be appointed.
And it needs it soon.