It’s 2014, and an angel calls me “grandpa”! What happened to that teenage kid in the mirror — and who is the old man staring back at me? Well, at least the acne is gone. Enough on the personal horrors of aging (which are way worse than any Hollywood syfy). What happens to IP law in 2014?
Near the end of 2013, the Supreme Court granted cert in CLS Bank v. Alice on issues related to software patentability, and many expect that the sagacious Justices will clarify the confusion they created about patent eligibility in earlier decisions, like Prometheus, that were amplified in the splintered en banc panel on CLS Bank at the Federal Circuit. I prophesy that the best we can hope for is a Bilski-esque vague instruction (wherein our top court opined that some business methods are patentable, citing the machine or transformation test as one viable test, without pointing to other valid tests and without enlightening the confused public.)
The Court is once again likely to limit software patentability in some arcane way that harms job creation and stifles economic growth. The bright side is that the Court’s failure to protect our largest growth industries may help spur the legislative branch into further action. A decade of intermittent patent reforms has created a permanent cadre of patent lobbyists very willing to focus their considerable efforts and talents on a new patent issue. It would be advantageous to the patent system if that attention were productively channeled to specifically include our emerging technologies in our patent statutes, and to legislate patent eligibility in a manner that treats 101 as the broad filter it was intended to be, while employing the other patent statutes, such as 112 and 103, to correctly provide the narrower filters.
On February 17, 2011, Teresa Stanek Rea was announced as the new Deputy Director at the USPTO. Yesterday Teresa Rea, who is now the Acting Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, announced that she will be leaving the Office, ending speculation that she may be announced as the next Director of the Patent Office.
Now the wait continues for the announcement of a new Director, which could come at any time. I have been hearing rumors about who it may be, but at this time I’m not ready to publicly speculate. There seems to be a political candidate with ties to the tech industry that has risen to the top of the Obama White House list.
Upon joining the USPTO, Rea, who is known both inside and outside the Office as “Terry,” took the mantle of U.S. government employee with the longest title; Rea’s full title prior to becoming Acting Director was Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Terry is no stranger to the intellectual property world, and she will undoubtedly be coveted by firms and corporations alike as she re-enters the private sector. She is a former President of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), and a long time patent practitioner who is highly regarding in the intellectual property community.
Late this afternoon Teresa Rea, the Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Acting Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, sent an e-mail to those who work for the USPTO. The e-mail was simply titled: “A Message from Teresa Stanek Rea.” The message was simple, the USPTO is facing “substantial budgetary uncertainty,” which is due to sequestration.
At this point I don’t know exactly the level of financial crisis at the USPTO, but it doesn’t sound good. The USPTO is a fee generating entity that runs largely on the fees it collects and this year projections have been well above realized revenue. With there already being a deficit, looming sequestration cuts could significantly harm USPTO productivity, which will cause harm to the innovation industry in the United States.
This is particularly alarming given the recent substantial raising of patent related fees for most applicants. How can the USPTO charge more and more for less service? The industry has already been uneasy about these substantial increases in fees, but most were willing to swallow hard as long as it meant a better functioning and faster moving patent process. It certainly doesn’t sound like a better functioning, faster moving patent process is on any relevant horizon at the moment. So the industry faces the prospect of paying more while returning to painfully slow processing of applications. A true nightmare scenario.
In addition to the aforementioned e-mail from Acting Director Rea, another e-mail was recently sent to union members from Robert Budens, President of POPA, the examiner’s union. Budens hypothesizes that there is an unofficial “gag order” placed upon USPTO officials by the White House. Budens has a reputation as a straight-shooter who is liked and well respected. For him to make such an assertion there must be some identifiable rationale on which he is relying. I have always understood Budens to have a good working relationship with USPTO management. The mere fact that he can’t get answers could justifiably raise suspicions. Of course, it may be because USPTO officials themselves don’t have any answers and are scrambling to address budget deficiencies, but you would think that could have been conveyed directly.
USPTO Senior Leadership. From left to right: Acting Director Teresa Rea, Trademarks Commissioner Deborah Cohn, and Patent Commissioner Peggy Focarino. Taken by Renee Quinn at the Women’s Symposium at the USPTO.
Today is the last day of the Kappos era at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Director Kappos assumed control of the Office in August 2009, and three and one-half years later he is leaving the Office a better place, with virtually all metrics pointing in the right direction. The backlog of applications is down, the backlog of appeals has started to fall, the most sweeping patent reform in generations has passed, the USPTO has promulgated volumes of new rules to make the patent system better and to implement the America Invents Act, there has been a Memorandum of Agreement signed with the Smithsonian on the Innovation Expo, which will be held in June 2013, and the future Innovation Pavilion that will be housed at the Arts and Industries building, a new examiner count system was put in place revising the production goals and time given to examiners for the first time in more than a generation, the patent bar examination was updated for the first time in 5 years and continues to be updated every six months. The accomplishments are many. These are but a few that leap to mind at the moment.
But how will the Patent Office fare when the clock strikes 12:00 midnight later tonight and Director Kappos becomes private citizen Kappos? The USPTO will be in very capable hands. One of the biggest accomplishments of the Kappos Administration happened behind the scenes but oddly in plain view. I speak of “Team Kappos” regularly. It is because they are a team in a very real sense as far as I can tell. And while the assembly of the team was done in the public eye and those interested enough know who Kappos’ top lieutenants have been, Kappos quitely assembled an extremely talented team of dedicated, hard working individuals who will capably carry on.
Before profiling the top officials who will continue the work of the patent system, allow me also to pause and recognize a truly extraordinary moment in Patent Office History. The top three officials at the USPTO will all be women. Acting Director Teresa Rea, Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino and Commissioner for Trademarks Deborah Cohn will lead the Office forward steering America’s engine of innovation and commerce. If that doesn’t create a buzz of excitement even in Washington, DC, I don’t know what will! It is excitement well deserved and perhaps could lead to a higher profile for the USPTO, which would be very good for the patent system as a whole.
Kappos at the USPTO hosting a public meeting on Patents End2End (12/14/2012).
On January 15, 2013, I had the privilege to interview David Kappos one last time in his role as Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. What follows is my exit interview with Director Kappos, where we reflect on his time at the USPTO, all that he has accomplished and the legacy that he will leave behind.
When conducting interviews I sometimes get a sense for whether the interview will be a good one once transcribed. Those who have helped me transcribe the interview and review it prior to publication (as we do with all interviews) tell me that this is a good interview. You will have to be the judge of that. I confess to being incapable of being objective.
Although I do write what I believe to be objective news articles from time to time, I am an opinion columnist. I am also an ardent believer in the patent system. The Kappos era at the USPTO also largely coincides with the time frame where I started to write daily (sometimes more). I attend public events at the USPTO and have interviewed Director Kappos several times and most of his top lieutenants. I have gotten to know Director Kappos and have seen first hand what his leadership has meant to not only the USPTO, but to the larger patent system in general. He has been a friend to the patent system and in my opinion is leaving the Patent Office far better than he found it. He will be sorely missed when he leaves at the end of the month, although he will leave with an excellent management team in place to carry forward the work for which he has laid the foundation.
David Kappos, Director of the USPTO for a little while longer.
UPDATE #4: 4:19pm ET on Nov. 26, 2012
David Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will be stepping down and leaving the agency effective the end of January 2013. This news originally came to me from a high-ranking, well placed source within the USPTO who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and has subsequently been confirmed by the USPTO.
“I am honored to have served this administration by leading the USPTO,” said Kappos. “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 U.S. economy by promoting and protecting innovation.”
Indeed, Director Kappos has presided over the USPTO at a time of great change, thanks in no small part to the passage of the America Invents Act (AIA) on September 16, 2011. This has lead the USPTO to put the pedal to the metal cranking out proposed rule package after proposed rule package. The final wave of the initial AIA implementation rules packages will come out in February 2013 ahead of Phase 3 of the AIA implementation on March 16, 2013, which is when the U.S. will convert from first to invent to a first inventor to file system.
The tragedy unfolding in Japan currently is nearly unthinkable. One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, followed by a tsunami which has devastated the country and brought the nation to the brink of nuclear disaster. At this time of crisis most, if not all, are focused on only the essentials. But life goes on elsewhere and with the law, particularly patent law, what that means is on top of this tragedy companies and inventors in Japan might find rights they have compromised in the United States. There is little that the United States Patent and Trademark Office can do, but yesterday they announced that they would offer whatever accommodations they can under the law. This is typical for natural disasters, and accommodations were given during Hurricane Katrina and several of the most recent earthquakes in California, although those are now years ago.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan who continue to suffer from the effects of the earthquake and resulting tsunami,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “The USPTO is offering assistance in the form of flexibility on deadlines to the full extent allowable under our laws to Japanese applicants.”
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