Teresa Stanek 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 continues.
The lack of an appointment of a USPTO director is especially worrying at a time when important patent reform is being discussed.
“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 says.
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 the 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.