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Behind the Scenes: The USPTO Senior Staff


Written by Gene Quinn
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Patent Attorney, Reg. No. 44,294
Zies, Widerman & Malek
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Posted: August 4, 2010 @ 10:47 am
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Director Kappos discusses matters with Arti Rai.

On July 19, 2010, I was granted behind the scenes access to observe the United States Patent and Trademark Office. From 11am to 7pm I trailed David Kappos, the Under Secretary for Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. My hosts for the day were primarily Peter Pappas, Chief Communications Officer and Senior Advisor to Kappos, and one of his top lieutenants, Jennifer Rankin Byrne. As I went through the day I met members of the Senior Staff, some of whom I already knew and others who I was meeting for the first time, and sat in on a series of meetings with Director Kappos.

In this part, Part 3 of the series, I will profile those Senior Staff members and high ranking lieutenants with whom I interacted with during my day at the USPTO.  For more on my visit to the USPTO see: Behind the Scenes: A Day in the Life of David Kappos and Interview Exclusive: USPTO Director David Kappos.

Sharon Barner, Deputy Director of the USPTO

In all likelihood Sharon Barner has the distinction of being the federal government employee with the longest title. Kappos himself has a staggeringly long title, but for Barner you start with Kappos’ title and then have to add the word “deputy” twice, which makes her official title “Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.” A mouthful indeed!

Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to meet in person with Barner, who was traveling on Office business. She called into several meetings and participated via conference call, for example for the “Bilski Meeting” finalizing the now – published Interim Guidelines and the “Upcoming Events Weekly Meeting,” which Kappos and his Senior Staff use to keep everyone in the loop and “on message” on upcoming public affairs activities.

As I pointed out in Part 1, Kappos keeps an extraordinary schedule. If there is one person at the Patent Office who has as busy a schedule it is Barner. Barner lives during the week in Northern Virginia and commutes back to Chicago on most weekends, where her family remains and her children go to school. In order not to uproot her school aged children, Barner typically leaves the Office late on Friday evenings and catches a flight back to Chicago. Her return trip is typically scheduled for the first flight out of Chicago to Reagan National, which is usually a 5am flight. When she arrives at the Office she usually, meets with Kappos at 8 am and often works late into the evening.

It was pointed out to me that Barner was the Senior Staff member who had primary responsibility for the recently published FY 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. She finalized the draft that was recently open for public comment while on an official trip to China, where she reportedly worked almost around the clock.

Robert Stoll, Commissioner for Patents

Bob Stoll is a lifetime PTO employee who started out as a Patent Examiner in 1982 and became a Supervisory Patent Examiner in 1990. Stoll has spent time as an Executive Assistant to the Director, Administrator of the Office of Legislative and International Affairs, Director of the Office of Enforcement, Dean of Training and Education and now Commissioner for Patents. Like others before him who have held the role of Commissioner he has seen the Office from top to bottom.

In my interactions with Stoll, both on July 19 and other times, he almost always seems to have a smile on his face. He comes across as a no nonsense guy who likes to cut to the chase. As the Commissioner for Patents he is essentially the COO on the patent side of the building, and was present in most of the meetings I attended with Kappos throughout the day. He and his team have primary, or complimentary responsibility for virtually everything going on in the patents operation, including the MPEP project whereby a new platform will be utilized to update the MPEP and make it far more user friendly, the Bilski Interim Guidelines and the Dashboard project, which will allow easy access to realistic pendency information, as well as access to the raw data on statistics the USPTO has at its disposal.

Stoll is a major force at the USPTO and has a very big personality. At times during the day Stoll would act as conduit for presenting information to Kappos and seeking guidance for his team. At other times he would press certain individuals for answers. Stoll would time and again cut to the heart of the matter, almost acting as interpreter to explain what was being said and why answers were tentative or qualified. Stoll’s finger-on-the-pulse understanding of his team and what they are doing clearly serves Kappos well.

Arti Rai, Administrator for Policy and External Affairs

As the Administrator for Policy and External Affairs (EA), Arti Rai serves as a policy adviser to Kappos and oversees the PTO’s international work, coordination of informational events on piracy and counterfeiting, and implementation of international intellectual property treaties. Historically, the Administrator for External Affairs did not have the policy title as well, but Rai, a former Law Professor at Duke University who has testified before Congress on patent issues and served on the USPTO transition team, advises to Kappos on a variety of policy issues. On the legislative front, EA benefits from having Dana Colarulli as Director of Government Affairs. Colarulli came to the PTO from the legislative shop at IPO and is a key member of the team.

In the past some of what I have written about Rai has been less than flattering, largely due to my substantive disagreements with her on several issues important to the patent bar. Nevertheless, my interactions with Rai were cordial and I found her to be knowledgeable.

I encountered Rai in the halls on the 10th floor throughout the day, and she participated in the “Upcoming Events Weekly Meeting” held at the end of the day. During this meeting, after everyone went through what they had on their plate for the week, the conversation turned to policy matters and the Three Track initiative and public hearing that would be held the next day. It seems that these meetings offer Kappos the opportunity to bounce his thoughts off trusted Senior Staff, and Rai is certainly among that select group.

During the Upcoming Events meeting, attended by Barner, Rai, Chief of Staff Drew Hirshfeld, Chief Communications Officer and Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary Peter Pappas and Pappas’ deputy Jennifer Rankin Byrne (Stoll was unable to attend), Kappos said “I am not going to sit here and do nothing,” referring to the USPTO’s job-creating potential and the backlog that is in its way, adding, “I want to tell people that.” When the conversation turned to Three Track Kappos asked “If you are against track three how can you not be against WIPO and the PCT?” This type of lively discussion went on for about 30 minutes, with everyone chiming in and offering opinions, thoughts and analysis. It was clearly a brainstorming session that allowed Kappos to get different views from his core advisors.

Peter Pappas, Chief Communications Officer and Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary

Peter Pappas is an attorney and a veteran of the Clinton Administration, having served in multiple roles, including Assistant Counsel to the President in the Office of White House Counsel and Deputy Director of Communications at the State Department. Prior to coming to the USPTO in September 2009, he served as Executive Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs at Pappas Telecasting Companies, which was at the time the nation’s largest privately held commercial television stations group. He managed the legal, legislative and regulatory affairs of the Company and served as its primary spokesperson, making him a natural fit for the role of Senior Advisor and head of communications for the USPTO. He is one of the very small group of political appointees at the USPTO that includes Kappos, Barner and Rai.

Upon arriving at the USPTO, Kappos decided to establish a new Office of the Chief Communications Officer, which is now a separate business unit that reports directly to the Director. In this role, Pappas has expanded responsibilities over and above what previous leaders of the Public Affairs department had. These new duties include speech writing, public outreach and new media. Pappas also serves as Senior Advisor to Kappos, and it is clear that he is a key advisor on politics and strategy as well as messaging. Given Pappas’ responsibilities, it is not surprising that he is the member of the Senior Staff that I have had the most interaction with.

As Chief Communications Officer, Pappas is a trusted advisor who seems to have a hand in all aspects of the Agency’s business and keeps his eye on the ball. While Hirshfeld seems to be Kappos’ task master, Pappas is the one who focuses on the big picture and also makes sure that all of the moving parts are working together. The two men seem to have an easy and collaborative rapport.

Drew Hirshfeld, Chief of Staff

I also spent some time with Drew Hirshfeld at the end of the day, and he and I finished up the day in Pappas’ office after my interview with Kappos. I told Hirshfeld I wouldn’t quote him on anything, but it is fair to say that he, like everyone else, remains excited about the USPTO under the leadership of Kappos. He told me he had been at the USPTO for 16 years and being on the periphery of the leadership was new to him, so he didn’t have any comparisons to offer about how things used to be done. Hirshfeld, who is privy to Kappos’ calendar, did confirm that what I saw was indeed a typical day in the life of those on the 10th floor.

It is clear that Hirshfeld is Kappos’ right hand man. Hirshfeld attended every meeting with Kappos and was furiously taking notes, with Kappos frequently telling him to follow up on this or that, which Hirshfeld already knew he would be assigned to do. It seems Hirshfeld also plays the role of advisor, at least at times. I witnessed several instances where Kappos would look to him and ask “what do you think Drew?” Drew was not the only person Kappos did that with, but it was clear that his insights and input are valued by Kappos.

John Owens, Chief Information Officer

John Owens was one of the first Senior Staff members that I met on July 19. I did not know him prior to this day, but he certainly came across as knowledgeable and dedicated. We all know the IT systems at the Patent Office are woefully inadequate. Prior to my behind the scenes access it was my belief that the state of the IT systems was the fault of Congress, who has since 1992 siphoned off about $750 million from the USPTO, and will siphon off another $250 million or so this year unless they fix the USPTO budget authorization prior to the end of the fiscal year, which is fast approaching. After my visit to the USPTO I am convinced the state of the IT systems is the fault of Congress and not the fault of Owens or his staff.

Simply put, I immediately liked Owens. I am a computer guy, being an electrical engineer by training. I received my EE before computer engineering was offered, so had to settle with loading up on as many computer engineering courses as possible in the EE curriculum. So I know a thing or two about computers and everything Owens said told me that he is not the typical “its black magic” computer guy. He knows what he is talking about ; he just has to make unfortunate choices about computer resources and public access because he can only do so much with the tools he is provided. As I am a Star Trek fan, while I sat there listening to Owens talk to Kappos I could not help but think of how Mr. Scott invariably reported back to Captain Kirk. Owens didn’t use the colorful language or a Scottish accent, but you could tell the message was “I’m giving it all I’ve got Captain.” How Congress could have allowed this to happen is an embarrassment if you ask me, and any member of Congress who wants to know just how sad the state of IT affairs are at the USPTO should just sit down with Owens and Kappos. Astonishing, but thankfully a man is at the helm who is doing whatever he can to keep it all together until help arrives; if help arrives.

The context of the discussions between Kappos and Owens was the no-cost deal with Google whereby the USPTO is giving Google access to public information in its database in exchange for Google making available to public in bulk form. Google will be publishing petitions soon, perhaps before the end of the Summer, and there are promises to OCR things not in digital format. As a part of the deal the USPTO will get the digitized information back in return and Google will host it for free.

Referring to some error messages Google was receiving as part of this information sharing, Owens came to the meeting with page after page the messages and the responsible underlying code. Sharing them with Kappos he said, “in case you want to geek out with me!”

Rounding out the senior team are:

Lynne Beresford, the longtime and highly respected Commissioner of Trademarks;

Bernie Knight, General Counsel, who was first hired at the USPTO by Todd Dickinson and served as a deputy in OGC during the Rogan and early Dudas years, recently returned to the USPTO from Treasury to assume the top legal job, replacing Jim Toupin;

Debbie Cohn, Beresford’s deputy in Trademarks, who has been serving as Acting Chief Administrative Officer for the past several months; and

Karen Strohecker, also from Trademarks, who has served as Acting Chief Financial Officer since January and been a key player, along with Barner and Colarulli, in the months-long effort to enable the USPTO to have access to its FY 2101 fee collections.

I met so many others, mostly in passing. I met Solicitor Raymond Chen; Chief Judge of the BPAI, Michael Fleming, Acting Associate Commissioner for Patent Policy, Bob Bahr, Deputy Director of the Office of Legal Administration, Robert Clarke; and many others.

I also briefly met USPTO Chief Economist Stuart Graham and Chief IT Strategist Marti Hearst—both who came from academia (Graham from Georgia Tech and Hearst from UC Berkeley) to work with the USPTO for a limited period. I had an interesting hallway conversation with Hearst, who solicited my feedback on the MPEP project she is working on which will allow for the patent community to provide comments and feedback that will be given to those responsible for drafting the official document to assist them with respect to making revisions. I didn’t get a chance to speak for very long with Stuart Graham, but I understand one of his priorities is to try to quantify how intellectual property impacts business investment, job creation and economic growth—information that would be very useful to the IP community.

Norma Rose, Executive Secretary

I was also fortunate to meet Norma Rose, who has been an employee of the federal government for 57 years, and is the Executive Secretary of the front office. Rose is a seasoned and dedicated employee who often stays at the office until 10pm to keep on top of her very full in-box.

I also met Kappos’ assistant, Grace Ramdat, and Barner’s assistant, Phyllis Ross, who play key roles as gatekeepers and schedulers.

Lastly I met the two “Schedule C” politicals who round out the “Front Office” – Patrick Kelley and Azam Khan — who work closely with Kappos and Barner on various projects.

I apologize to everyone who spent time with me who I have not mentioned. The day was great, I have a much better sense of what goes on at the Patent Office and left with my beliefs reinforced. Namely; David Kappos is the right man for this job and he has surrounded himself with talented individuals who really care and are willing to work private sector hours (and then some) while receiving a public sector paycheck. So I give a deserved tip of the hat to Kappos and the rest of his highly capable senior team.

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Posted in: Gene Quinn, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Patents, USPTO

About the Author

is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.

 

4 comments
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  1. Good overview, Gene. I worry a bit how being an “insider”–even if only for a short time–might temper criticisms you have of proposed Patent Office policy and positions in the future, given the deference that can comes with familiarity. Nevertheless, this was a valuable introduction into the hierarchy and functioning of an institution that is mysterious often even to those who devote their whole lives to interacting with it.

  2. The other night I saw David Kappos interviewed on a CBS news segment about the plight of the USPTO, its massive backlog, and the fee diversion problem. If this continues, public pressure and awareness may force Congress to finally start addressing patent law’s plight, and we may even start to turn things around for the USPTO and our economy.
    http://www.aminn.org/webcast-aipr-patent-reform-presentation-us-patent-and-trademark-office

  3. Excellent writeup Gene. I beg to differ on your perception of Owens. He may have put on a good show, but it could not be further from the truth. Owens has been a disaster. Just look at his many hirings of friends from AOL. Need you forget about Lisa Kidd, the shoe thrower. Owens and his side kick David Conley did everything to protect her. It was not until Kappos demanded accountability and immediate action that Owens was forced to part ways with her. Actually Kappos told them to fire her, but in an effort to protect her yet again Owens and Conley tipped her off and she just quit.

    Besides the scandals, Owens judgement has to be in serious question. How could he put Conley in charge of anything? He did not even have the experience to lead the applications developmemt area. He had zero development experience. This is another example of cronyism. Conley was a complete disaster. Once again Owens refused to remove him until he was forced to by Kappos.

    Kappos has done a great job of cleaning up the mess laid by the last administration. Why he allows Owens to continue in his position is simply perplexing? Especially since Owens is doing everything he can do behind the scenes to derail his agenda. Kappos appears to be the only one fooled by his antics or he may be just keeping him around to be the fall guy in case some of his key iniatives fail.

    I’m honestly surprised Gene that you would so easily fall for the dog and pony show put on for you. Where is the actual investigative reporting? Plenty of rumors have been out there about Owens and you don’t even ask any questions? I am a deeply disappointed loyal reader.

  4. Rumor has it that John Owens just set out an email that accused Kappos and President Obama of playing politics with the failure of PFW. This follows yesterday’s Washington Post article that highlighted an investigation underway to find out how PFW money could have been so mismanaged. Owens was hired in as the head of the software development group at PTO, before being promoted by the last administration to CIO, so he should be held accountable for its failure. I’m amazed that Kappos has kept him around this long? It’s disgusting that CIO would so publicly call out the current administration for trying to get to the bottom of the gross mismanagement of funds that occurred under his watch!