Behind the Scenes: A Day in the Life of David Kappos

By Gene Quinn
July 29, 2010

USPTO Director David Kappos in his office on the 10th floor of the Madison Building on July 19, 2010

On July 19, 2010, I was granted a back stage pass of sorts, for a behind-the-scenes look at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I had initially requested an interview with Director David Kappos and was given an affirmative response, but then I floated the idea of a three-part series to commemorate the first anniversary of David Kappos leaving the private sector to take the helm at the USPTO. Kappos was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 7, 2009, and formally sworn in by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on August 13, 2009.

Rather than just do an interview, I suggested something different. I had heard from numerous sources at the Patent Office that David Kappos is an extremely hard worker, coming to work by 7:00am and leaving most nights after 7:00pm. I had also heard over and over about his regular evening and weekend e-mail exchanges with his Senior Staff. It was apparent to me that Kappos is not like most political appointees, and unlike many, if not most, of the previous PTO Directors. So I thought it might be particularly interesting to profile a day in the life of David Kappos, much like the President allows certain journalists to do by giving them access to the White House for a day, with an associated tour and interview. Peter Pappas, the Chief Communications Officer and Senior Advisor to Kappos, liked the idea and agreed to work with me to get it scheduled. It was tentatively scheduled for July 20, 2010, but with the Three Track hearings that day it was moved up to Monday, July 19, 2010.

I arrived at the Patent Office as per our agreement at 11:00am. Those familiar with David Kappos, who is referred to as “Dave” and sometimes as “DK” at the Office, know he does not start his day at 11:00am; he usually arrives at the office at about 6:45am. He normally takes the Metro to and from work each day from his residence in D.C. and frequently chats with examiners during his commute. Kappos was in Boston the day before our interview, and was to take the first flight out of Boston back to Northern Virginia on the morning of July 19, hence the later than usual start time for my day with the Director. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those who know Kappos, but he was restless to get back and instead of taking the first flight out on the 19th he took a late flight on the 18th, and was in his office at 6:50am on July 19. I also learned that his deputy, Sharon Barner, routinely catches a 5 am flight from her hometown of Chicago most Monday mornings so she gets to the office in time to meet with Kappos at 8 am. I am told that Patents Commissioner Bob Stoll and External Affairs Administrator Arti Rai, both key Kappos lieutenants, also keep very long hours. In fact, hard work seems to be the norm on the “10th floor” and this type of dedication to the job seems to be a constant and recurring theme at the USPTO. You will read more about Kappos’ Senior Staff in Part Three of this series, titled Behind the Scenes: The USPTO Senior Staff, which is scheduled to be published on IPWatchdog.com on Wednesday, August 4, 2010.

Kappos' team assembles in his office for a weekly meeting, which they use to keep in touch and stay informed about what everyone is working on and the schedule of events for the week ahead. Left to Right: Peter Pappas (Chief Communications Officer), David Kappos (USPTO Director), Arti Rai (External Affairs) and Drew Hirshfeld (Chief of Staff).

Plainly put, Kappos is driven and his workload is staggering. He came to the Patent Office with a mission. And as you will hear in my interview with him (which will be Part Two of the series, and which is scheduled to be published on IPWatchdog.com on Monday, August 2, 2010) he treats every day like it could be his last day given that he serves “at the pleasure of the President.” His drive to reform the Patent Office and his nearly frantic work schedule is a testament to his desire to get the job done in whatever length of time he is given at the helm of the Office.

An example of what I will call Kappos’ “get it done” philosophy was on display during a joint meeting of the IT department and the legal team responsible for writing the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures (MPEP). Sadly, one of the reasons the MPEP is not as useful as it could or should be is because the vendor of the computer platform went out of business and the system they are using cannot be updated from a technical standpoint and it has outlived its usefulness. Kappos and his team have identified a new platform that the IT department has tested and likes, and which is also acceptable to the legal team. During the meeting Commissioner Bob Stoll commented that, upon implementation, a Board decision that is issued today could be in the official copy of the MPEP the next day, which would be an extraordinarily fast turn-around. In any event, as the conversation unfolded Kappos at one point said: “if we are going to fail at something, we prefer to fail fast so we can move on to the next thing.” What Kappos was saying is that he doesn’t want to linger and wait too long to see whether something is going to work. He wants the system put through its paces and a determination made by IT and legal quickly as to whether it is the right platform or not . He wants the decision made with all due speed because if a new platform needs to be adopted he wants that decision made quickly so the PTO can get on with improvements. He does not want the PTO languishing for many months with a platform or system that doesn’t make the departments happy and doesn’t fulfill the needs of the PTO and the applicant community.

As I spent the day going from meeting to meeting, observing Kappos’ day, meeting the Senior Staff, many of whom I already knew, and talking to everyone, it became clear that this was not an unusual day. Multiple phone calls, one from a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom and another from a law professor at Howard University who is working on a pro bono project and conference, to meeting after meeting. I was told repeatedly by those I encountered that this was a very typical day for Kappos, who keeps moving at a fast pace from the time he enters the building early in the morning until the time he leaves the Office at night. Throughout his busy day, Kappos seems to maintain a low-key and affable management style.

Of course, there will be some who think this was an unrealistic day in the life of David Kappos. While I can’t say with 100% certainty, I can say with certitude that what I saw and what I was told is 100% consistent with what I have heard many times over the last year in countless off the record conversations with examiners and Senior Staff. Kappos is a workaholic who really cares about the patent system and the mission of the USPTO. Whether it is on the record or off the record everyone at the PTO, and those outside but with intimate knowledge of what is going on behind the walls on the 10th floor of the Madison Building, will tell you that everyone at the Office is enthusiastic and that Kappos is a great leader.

Some of the USPTO leadership. Left to Right: Drew Hirshfeld, Bob Stoll, Bob Bahr and Michael Fleming.

When I originally started hearing just how great Kappos was from everyone, I was perplexed. It seemed as if he was either exactly what the Patent Office needed or there had been a thorough and complete brainwashing of everyone involved. Neither seemed plausible, although the brainwashing thing seemed more likely to me at first than a Presidential appointment being the perfect man for the job. But no one, and I mean no one, is complaining, and I can tell you that Kappos is getting the most out of his Senior Staff and those managers on lower levels as well. He works a lot and he demands a lot, but his passion seems to be contagious because everyone is working hard and no one complains. Kappos’ leadership style is one that seems to inspire and motivate his senior team. Astonishing really.

The most common story I hear from those within the Patent Office is that Kappos practically works day and night. While a roughly 7am to 7pm schedule is a lot by government standards, it is not crazy by private sector standards. Kappos was after all, most recently Vice-President in charge of IP at IBM, and managed the largest IP department in the world. But repeatedly I hear about e-mails flying furiously at all hours of the evening and early morning, and all day on Saturday and Sunday. One member of the Senior Staff pulled out his Blackberry to make a point. I had previously been told by someone at the PTO that everyone now has their Blackberry surgically attached to his or her hip because “the boss is an e-mail fiend.” In any event, this Senior Staff member covered up the subject lines, which were displayed in the middle of the screen and then said, “Just look at the time of the day that these were sent.” When I looked at the screen all that was visible was the name of the sender and the time stamp. As messages were scrolled down it was clear that Kappos and his leadership team swap e-mails with great frequency late into the evenings, even on Saturdays and Sundays until nearly midnight and sometimes even later. Yet no one complains, not even off the record and in private. It seems that everyone believes they are participating in something special, and a few have even told me just that. I even witnessed some throughout the day joking with each other about “being out of contact” or “not responding to e-mails” for a few hours over the weekend. At the same time, one senior staff member commented that Kappos takes the time to respond thoughtfully to each and every e-mail he receives and is always available to meet or confer with his senior staff.

The other thing that I witnessed worthy of particular note is the fact that throughout the day, in almost every conversation, Kappos weaves certain reminders into discussions. A good example would be what Kappos casually interjected during a discussion with members of the Commissioner’s staff who are engaged in a project to better report actual pendency of patent applications. Pendency is a hot topic in the IP Community and there is general agreement that the traditional method of measuring pendency does not cover all situations. Therefore, Kappos and his patents and communications teams, have been working on a new patent dashboard that will allow the PTO data to be more transparent and accessible. The team is going to use multiple metrics and allow for the information to quickly and easily be displayed through a visual interface or Dashboard. During the “Dashboard Meeting” Kappos, speaking of the data, explained: “it is owned by the people of the United States, why wouldn’t we want to let them see it?” Everyone was on the same page, and no one was suggesting the data shouldn’t be seen, but the project seeks to spoon feed users some information and continually allow them to drill down further through sets of data until anyone can, if they are interested, see the raw data. The team is proposing to add three or four new measures of pendency — for example, to more accurately reflect pendency with RCE’S. Later in the day he casually said to his Senior Staff: “We are here to serve our country.” Kappos is, indeed, taking transparency to a new and seldom seen level at the USPTO and constantly mindful that, while he works at the pleasure of the President, he works for the American people.

Another thing noteworthy is that Kappos is a very hands-on leader, who participates in the drafting and editing of documents. He is not merely there to sign Federal Register Notices, although he does indeed sign those Notices. One of the benefits of having someone in the position who is a patent attorney and who is intimately familiar with the patent system is that he can meaningfully participate, draft and edit documents and he routinely does so. Kappos also blogs weekly, both externally and in-house. He is not merely a politician, and frankly it is probably unfair to even consider him a politician. He is a patent attorney and an engineer with deep substantive expertise who just so happens to be running the USPTO, what a novel idea!

In terms of his management style, I would call Kappos’ style easy, laid back and yet firm. There was never any question as to who in the room was the man in charge, and I suspect an alien from another world could have told who the leader was after observing the meeting for a while. But upon entering the room it would have been difficult in most of the meetings because Kappos did not sit at the visible “head of the table.” He was down-to-earth and cordial with everyone. It seemed time and time again he would want to know what the timetable was for this or that, and those responding would always become a bit uncomfortable and start qualifying. He would allow for this, but would always come back and want a firm answer without any wiggling. To a person they would always respond that they could meet the deadline previously agreed, hoping that would make Kappos happy, which it invariably did. Of course, if it could be done competently but faster, that was his preference in every situation. Like any good leader there were “homework assignments” detailing what he wanted to see next and getting everyone to buy into the next stage.

Director Kappos chats with Solicitor Ray Chen at the conclusion of "Bilski Meeting."

One of the meetings I attended was the “Bilski Meeting,” which was to finalize and approve the now finalized and published Interim Bilski Guidelines. The meeting was attended by a who’s who of leadership. At this meeting were Director Kappos, Commissioner Bob Stoll, Solicitor Ray Chen, Board of Appeals Chief Judge Michael Fleming, Chief of Staff Drew Hirshfeld, Acting Associate Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy Bob Bahr, Communications Chief Peter Pappas and others. Deputy Director Sharon Barner, who was traveling, phoned in to participate. This was the pretty much the same team that assembled on June 28, 2010, in rapid action form to discuss and agree what initial guidance needed to be sent to the patent examiners as a result of the Supreme Court decision in Bilski v. Kappos. This group discussed and agreed on the preliminary guidance and wanted to get it out quickly to examiners who would have questions. It was decided collectively on June 28, 2010, that the memo would be sent out by Bob Bahr because historically these types of memos are sent to the examining corps by the Associate Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy. However, two senior level meetings were held on the day the Bilski decision came out, and Director Kappos and Commissioner Stoll, as well as Solicitor Ray Chen were deeply involved in drafting the initial guidance. Kappos reportedly cut short a meeting at the White House to return to the office to personally edit and approve the guidance that Stoll, Chen and Bahr drafted with the assistance of Arti Rai.

Truthfully, there was not much substantive debate at the “Bilski Meeting,” which seemed more like a “speak now or forever hold your peace” meeting designed to finalize and sign off on this guidance. For obvious reasons, no legal advice was given or discussed in my presence, per our previous arrangement. The heavy lifting had already been done and Kappos had over the weekend read through the proposed Federal Register Notice one final time, redlined the document throughout and edited the final draft personally, which I am told he does with all Federal Register Notices and memos to the examining corps. So the meeting was to go over the Director’s final edits. It sounded like there had been many drafts from Kappos leading up to this, and everyone in the room was rather jubilant and obviously pleased with the work product they collectively worked together to create. One quasi-substantive suggestion was made, which was to drive home one more time at the beginning of the Notice the fact that Section 101 is a threshold inquiry and examiners should focus on 102, 103 and 112 rejections rather than leaping to 101. All were in agreement saying it was already there, but if it could be made more clear then get it done. The final draft with this minor edit was then to be sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. OMB had been kept in the loop throughout and speedy approval was anticipated, which did, in fact, happen. After obtaining OMB approval Kappos signed the Federal Register Notice on July 21, 2010, just two days later, and just over three weeks after the Supreme Court issued the decision.

On the phone with Professor Mtima, discussing pro bono assistance for independent inventors.

Finally, one more thing is worthy of noting here and now. While I saw Kappos in many different contexts, in meetings, on the telephone, in the halls and in the USPTO cafeteria, throughout the day one thing seemed to make him satisfied beyond everything else. Late in the day he had a telephone call with Professor Lateef Mtima of Howard University. Professor Mtima is planning a conference for sometime this Fall, likely in September, to focus on providing legal assistance to inventors who have great ideas and inventions but no, or limited, capital to pursue their inventions. Kappos is working hard with several law schools and law firms to create a pro bono program to help those inventors. He talks about how you never know which invention could be the one innovation to create a whole new industry and help create many jobs. He and his staff talk about their responsibility to help those independent inventors who may lack resources, including helping those individuals find reputable legal advice and not fall prey to those in the industry who sometimes take advantage of this segment of the inventing community. In fact, Kappos’ communications team established a bi-weekly newsletter called “Inventors Eye” that is designed to be a resource for that community. At the end of this call he exclaimed: “This has been the best call of the day.” I believed he meant it, and didn’t mean any disrespect to anyone else he spoke with or had meetings with. He was just trying to do good by and for disadvantaged inventors who need pro bono assistance.

What a day it was; July 19, 2010.

Pappas and Kappos share a laugh at the end of the day in the Director's Office, just before my interview with Kappos.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 23 Comments comments.

  1. Andrew Park July 29, 2010 10:00 pm

    What is he going to do about backlog of all those patents –waiting for review.
    Why US Government is taking USPTO fundings for other agencies?
    can the author get these answers?

  2. Malcolm Scoon July 30, 2010 2:24 am

    A great incite into a busy Director Kappos’ day. Regarding pro bono assistance for inventors, is this a true public-private partnership where federal dollars and/or other incentives will be continually allocated for these programs?

  3. EG July 30, 2010 7:22 am

    Gene,

    Congratulations, WAY TO GO!. A coup if there ever was one for a patent blog.

  4. factchecker July 30, 2010 9:24 am

    When you state that kappos’ work ethic is not like most political appointees, what do you base that on? Many of the PTO senior leadership, including several of those named in this post, are appointees. In fact, political appointees regularly work early, late, and weekends.

  5. AJ July 30, 2010 9:26 am

    Gene,

    Great article. Other than the longer work hours, did you get a sense that Kappos’ industry background strongly affects the work environment in a way that someone who comes from a legal or government background probably wouldn’t?

    AJ

  6. Gene Quinn July 30, 2010 10:04 am

    AJ-

    Thanks. In my interview with Kappos I did ask him about what management techniques/style he has brought into the USPTO. That will be running on Monday.

    What I can say is that Kappos is accomplishing a lot more than others would, could or previously did. It didn’t really come up in my day at the USPTO, but I have been told over the last year or so multiple times by multiple people that when a roadblock is encountered, as invariably will be from time to time, he is relentless. I have heard about meetings that start and don’t end until there is agreement, resolution or a plan. He doesn’t seem to take “no” for an answer and is constantly looking for what can be accomplished to forward the agenda.

    -Gene

  7. Gene Quinn July 30, 2010 10:09 am

    Factchecker-

    If you were at all familiar with the USPTO you would know that what is going on in the Office now is very different than it has been for at least the last 8 years, and for most of the time over the last 18 years, with a couple notable periods of competent leadership over that time prior to Kappos. Those lifetime PTO employees who have risen through management ranks and would know what life was like under previous regimes tell me that this is different and never the way it was previously.

    You can pretend that political appointees work 7 days a week, put in 70+ hours in the Office and then put in another 30+ hours at home, but the rest of us know that is not true. A great many political appointees to positions like this are more concerned with their travel schedule and networking than actually working.

    Go ahead and be my guest and feel that Kappos’ work ethic is not news, but those in the know understand that it IS news.

    -Gene

  8. Gene Quinn July 30, 2010 10:10 am

    Thanks EG. I am very excited I can tell you.

    -Gene

  9. Gene Quinn July 30, 2010 10:13 am

    Malcolm-

    I don’t have a lot of information on the particulars of the pro bono program. What I do know, is that the PTO is strapped for cash and really can’t even find the funds to do what they need to do to update the IT systems. I wouldn’t look for the PTO to put dollars into a program. I would look for the PTO to do whatever they can to pull together a program working with law firms and law school clinics. So I would anticipate the PTO will use its considerable clout to facilitate those motivated in the private sector and academia to come together under some kind of PTO approved, authorized or encouraged program.

    -Gene

  10. Gene Quinn July 30, 2010 10:18 am

    Andrew-

    Kappos has started a great many initiatives to try and decrease the backlog. He has been there less than a year, and some of those have not been fully implemented because they need rule changes, which requires the writing of new rules, posting for comment, considering the comments and then finalizing the rules. I think the 24 month provisional will help thin out some applications for small businesses and independent inventors for the short term, allowing examination spots for others. The Three Track initiative is aimed at allowing a friendly acceleration for a fee and providing incentives of a kind for those who might want to file an application to delay examination, which will open up examination spots and resources for others. They have modified the examiner count system, which has helped and likely has been the biggest affect to date because examiners get more credit if they do the job right quickly rather than stringing out the process. The Green Technology acceleration is helping those important technologies get consideration in a time relevant manner. They brought back some retired examiners to help with the backlog. A lot of things going on, some yet to be implemented, but the reality is there is only so much he can do because even though applications and fees have increased over projections they now have the work but can’t keep the fees. Congress will siphon off $250 million in FY 2010 from the Patent Office. That money could and should be used to hire more examiners, update the IT system which would make everyone faster and more productive and could provide more fees to rehire some former examiners who could dive into the backlog.

    Congress is what is impeding cutting into the backlog at this point, not the USPTO.

    -Gene

  11. EG July 30, 2010 10:33 am

    “He doesn’t seem to take “no” for an answer and is constantly looking for what can be accomplished to forward the agenda.”

    Gene,

    Kappos is definitely my kind of Director for the USPTO: he sees challenges to overcome, not obstacles blocking the path.

  12. EG July 30, 2010 12:13 pm

    Gene,

    Your series of interviews have now been posted on Patently-O. WAY TO GO!

  13. Blind Dogma July 30, 2010 12:46 pm

    “WAY TO GO!” to Prof. Crouch

    – for recognizing patent journalism that seeks to rise above the flames (flames quenching is an acceptable, albeit little known, use of my Kool-Aid).

  14. Stan E. Delo July 30, 2010 1:20 pm

    Great job Gene! I find your report to be very inspiring after seeing what has happened at the PTO over the last 8 years or so. A man on a mission it would seem, on behalf of inventors and the American people. Can hardly wait to see the other two parts…. Thanks!
    Stan

  15. Gene Quinn July 30, 2010 1:51 pm

    Stan-

    “A man on a mission” is indeed a great way to characterize Kappos, at least based on everything I saw and have heard.

    Thanks for reading.

    -Gene

  16. EG July 30, 2010 3:58 pm

    BD,

    Yes, there’s quite a bit of “Kool-Aid” drinking going on on some of the other patent blogs. At least at IPWatchdog, we hear from the real “movers and shakers” (i.e, Federal Circuit judges and the Director of the USPTO) in our patent vineyard.

  17. Stan E. Delo July 30, 2010 4:14 pm

    BD,

    “Yes, there’s quite a bit of “Kool-Aid” drinking going on on some of the other patent blogs. At least at IPWatchdog, we hear from the real “movers and shakers” (i.e, Federal Circuit judges and the Director of the USPTO) in our patent vineyard.”

    Very well said EG. I think I might know who a few of the anonymous posters are (I hope) but they have no responsibilty for what they write intrinsically, so will sometimes be outrageous just to get their fleeting moment of (anonymous) glory, I suppose. Gene put his foot down in this regard a while back, which has produced a much better discussion and analysis of current events in my opinion. 6K and Malcom Mooney indeed…

    Cheers, Stan~

  18. Ron Reardon July 30, 2010 6:18 pm

    Gene,

    Super job! Thanks for pulling back the curtain and revealing what many of us have been sharing with independent inventors at club meetings: that Dave Kappos is a breath of fresh air at the USPTO and is the right man to change the culture there.

    Ron Reardon

  19. Stan E. Delo July 30, 2010 7:05 pm

    Part of this fresh new attitude might be due to my ex-Governor of Washington state Gary Locke being appointed as the director of the Department of Commerce. He literally said to DK and the staff at the PTO that if anything is not working well, that the Director of the USPTO has his permission to “blow it up” and do something different. He turned the great state of Washington’s economy quite significantly around when it needed some help very badly at the time while he was governor here for 8 years. I voted for him twice. Thanks to both Gary and DK!

    Stan~

  20. Steve M August 1, 2010 7:35 pm

    (Another!) great interview, Gene; thanks!

    And thank you, Mr. Kappos, for being willing to allow such insightful access; but most importantly, for caring this much and working this hard to make right as much as possible that which has been wrong for so many years.

    One can only imagine how much better things for all of us would have been . . . had your predecessors been even half the Director you are.

  21. Stan E. Delo August 1, 2010 8:12 pm

    Very well said Steve M…
    The other part of the problem in the past has been Congress’s prediliction to raid/steal the PTO’s funds to the tune of nearly a Billion dollars in the near past, as Cheif Justice Michel mentions in this second part. I think Congress should Give it Back, and maybe just call it a loan for a while perhaps. The USPTO and the IRS are the only two Federal agencies that have consistently seen a profit for very many years. I find it somewhat short-sighted for Congress to take the filing and maintenence fees that are paid for by inventors, and leave the PTO with inadequate funding. It doesn’t seem fair at all to me, especially in my position as an independent inventor that is just trying to get things off the ground. Extensive pendency is very damaging to my particular business model.

    Stan~

  22. patent litigation August 4, 2010 3:46 pm

    I especially appreciate Kappos’s comments as you reported them during the “Dashboard Meeting.” It’s nice to know that some within Washington’s rarefied air realize and acknowledge that they are working for us … and not the other way around.
    http://www.industryweek.com/articles/patent_enforcement_21538.aspx?SectionID=2

  23. Stan E. Delo August 4, 2010 5:35 pm

    Thanks for the great link patent litigation! It is a very important aspect of doing business as an independent to understand what you should Not do. I think Alex did a very good job of making the issues reasonably clear to most.

    Stan~