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Kappos shocks IP community, steps down as USPTO director

USPTO director David Kappos will step down from his post in January, as reported first by professor Dennis Crouch of the Patently O blog and confirmed by the USPTO

Kappos was appointed head of the Office in August 2009. He has by many accounts been one of the most successful directors in USPTO history, and most assumed he would stay on once President Barack Obama was re-elected on November 6.

But today Crouch revealed he will leave his position as of January 2013. A USPTO spokesperson told Managing IP that Kappos informed USPTO employees this morning by email and will leave the Office at the end of January.

Kappos' statement does not reveal much, and the USPTO said it will not be releasing any additional information.

Kappos said: “I am honored to have served this administration by leading the USPTO. I believe we have made great progress in reducing the patent backlog, increasing operational efficiency, and exerting leadership in IP policy domestically and internationally. Thanks to the entire USPTO staff for their dedication and hard work. I wish them the very best as they continue their efforts to support the US economy by promoting and protecting innovation."

In an interview with Managing IP in September, Robert Armitage, former senior vice president and general counsel at Eli Lilly, hinted that Kappos might not be for long. “I am doing what I can to urge him to continue in the role,” said Armitage, suggesting that Kappos might need some convincing.

Stephen Glazier of K&L Gates, hearing the news for the first time, said: “That’s a surprise; and it’s potentially important because his administration has done so much.”

Glazier said the USPTO could put the IP community’s minds at ease by recruiting the next director from an in-house IP position, like Kappos was. He said that both the pharmaceutical and software industries have some great candidates.

Deputy director Teresa Stanek Rea will take over as acting director once Kappos resigns, and could be nominated as his replacement. Rea worked in private practice at Crowell & Moring before joining the USPTO in 2011. She has also served as president of AIPLA and worked in-house at Ethyl Corporation.

Robert Stoll, former commissioner for patents at the USPTO who is now with Drinker Biddle & Reath, said that Kappos’ departure “is a terrible loss for the USPTO and the country”.

Stoll told Managing IP in a recent interview that the potential loss of Kappos during the recent election would be “a huge change and a problem”.

It is unclear at this point who the IP community will back as nominee for the new director. Stoll dubbed Stanek Rea “eminently capable with decades of IP experience”, and said she will be welcomed. But some may prefer a candidate with more corporate experience.

Kappos’ replacement and the fate of the USPTO’s budget under a new Congress will now be the two key developments to watch in 2013, said Glazier.

Check back with Managing IP for more coverage of this topic throughout the week.

A roundup of views on Kappos

Here is a compilation of quotes about Kappos, both before and after today’s announcement.

(11-26-12) Acting secretary of commerce Rebecca Blank: “We are fortunate to have had Dave on our leadership team. We all benefited from his deep knowledge, strong management skills, and passion for the issues before the USPTO. I thank him for his distinguished service.”

(11-26-12)Judiciary Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy:"Director Kappos's leadership of the PTO has been applauded by Democrats and Republicans, and by all sectors of the business community. I was sad to hear of his decision to step down; the President and the Commerce Department have lost a valuable member of their economic team. I wish Dave all the best."

(11-26-12) Herbert Wamsley, executive director, IPO: “While we would have preferred to see him continue in his position longer, he has established himself as one of the greatest leaders in the history of the agency. He turned the corner in reducing the intractable backlogs of patent applications and appeals. He sought the views of stakeholders constantly. He pushed for fundamental patent law reform and oversaw the new rules that we hope will make the AIA a success. He rekindled interest in international patent law reform. Perhaps most important of all he reenergised the agency and raised the morale of employees to the highest level in memory.”

(11-01-12) Andrew Baluch, Foley & Lardner, former director of international IP enforcement in the White House office of the IP enforcement coordinator: “I think that everyone hopes that Kappos stays on for a second term, having brought down the pendency for patent applications and at the board of appeals, and by all accounts doing a great job. You cannot dispute competence. The facts and the results at the USPTO speak for themselves.”

(11-01-12) Robert Budens, Patent Office Professional Association (patent examiners’ union):“Whichever party is elected, it would behoove them to consider keeping Kappos on.”

(09-10-10) Stephen Kunin, Oblon Spivak Maier & Neustadt: "He's been comparable only to [Q Todd] Dickinson in some of his successes with labour relations.”

(09-10-10) Rebecca McNeill, Finnegan: "He has articulated his mission and proposals well and has provided clear opportunities to comment on them, while also taking feedback into account.”





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