Kappos Joins Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York

Earlier today Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP announced that David J. Kappos, former Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), joined the Firm as a partner. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog points out that this is only the fourth lateral hire by Cravath in the last 50 years. Indeed, Cravath is not a firm know to play the revolving door lateral hiring game, but obviously couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a talent of the likes of David Kappos. He is listed on the Cravath website as being a member of Cravath’s corporate law group.

“I am simply thrilled to be joining Cravath,” Kappos said. “I was fortunate to work closely with Cravath on many intellectual property matters over the years as a client at IBM, and I developed an extremely high regard for the Firm’s unique ability to achieve the best possible results handling the most complex and important corporate and contested IP issues. Of critical importance to me, Cravath handles intellectual property in the context of the client’s business objectives, with absolutely first-in-class legal expertise, both in the corporate and litigation arenas.”

Cravath is indeed a very decorated law firm with a long and celebrated history. In recent years the firm continues to be in the first tier for M&A, securities, commercial banking and litigation according to both Chambers USA and Legal 500. In 2012, U.S. News and World Report named Cravath “Law Firm of the Year” for intellectual property litigation.

Kappos developed an extraordinary, nearly super-human, reputation for the long hours he worked while at the USPTO. I have joked about it occasionally, likening him to either the Energizer Bunny or Data from Star Trek the Next Generation. Kappos would put in 12+ hour days only to go home, get a bite to eat and then jump back on the computer reading reports and sending e-mails until well past midnight. Leading the USPTO was a 7 day a week job for Kappos, including holidays. He obviously needs very little sleep, and he was always capable of inspiring those who worked for him to also put in long hours. It his the combination of his intense work ethic and inspiring others that allowed him to reform the USPTO to the extent he did during his 3.5 year tenure as Director.

In 2009, Kappos was appointed Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the USPTO by President Barack Obama, and confirmed by the United States Senate in August 2009. Coming into the government after spending his entire career to that point working for IBM. Kappos, an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of California, Davis, first started working as a development engineer for IBM.  He would then later as a lawyer. From 2003 to 2009, in his last post at IBM, he served as the company’s Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for Intellectual Property. In that capacity, he managed global intellectual property activities for IBM, including all aspects of patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret protection. During that time he was also an important voice within the patent community, testifying on Capitol Hill, and taking a position against the proposed claims and continuations rules the Bush era Patent Office was seeking to implement.

While Kappos kept mind-boggling hours while working for the government, he already had a reputation as perhaps the hardest working patent attorney in the country while at IBM. The stories I have heard of his nearly legendary work schedule date back to his days at IBM, with IBMers and USPTO personnel alike telling me virtually the same types of stories. It seems that Kappos only knows one speed and one direction — full speed straight ahead.

Since the announcement that he would be leaving the USPTO I have had several opportunities to chat with him in various settings. I don’t believe I ever asked him where he was going, knowing that when the time was right an announcement would be made. I did ask him, however, whether he would be taking any time off, or whether he had a vacation scheduled. I imagine that Kappos got tired of me asking the question. Each time the answer was the same: “I’m not the vacation type.” Myself, I would vanish to the beaches of Orange County, California, to recharge my batteries. Kappos’ batteries never seem to need recharging.

According to Allen Parker, Cravath’s Presiding Partner, “Dave will be an outstanding addition to our Firm, supporting our clients when they are addressing their most complex intellectual property issues, including those involving our clients’ deal activity as well as their litigation and antitrust matters.”

Mr. Parker continued, “Dave’s experience will be highly relevant to a wide range of Cravath’s clients, including those in the biotechnology, consumer, general industries, media, pharmaceutical, technology and telecommunications sectors. The Firm represents numerous companies within each of these sectors, many of which have spent decades working with Cravath on their intellectual property matters.”

Something tells me that we haven’t seen the last of David Kappos on the main stage in the patent community. The platform he left at the USPTO was the largest, most visible platform in the industry, but had he been interested in slowing down and/or smelling a rose here and there he wouldn’t have selected Cravath.

Congratulations to David Kappos and Cravath. I suspect this will be a mutually beneficial relationship for the foreseeable future.


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  • [Avatar for Paul Cole]
    Paul Cole
    February 7, 2013 06:57 am

    It is appropriate to offer the very best wished to Dave in his new appointment.