Yet another high profile senior level management position has been filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the trend of qualified “get it” people continues. Rob Clarke, who is currently the Director of the Office of Patent Legal Administration (OPLA), has been asked by Director David Kappos to become the new USPTO Chief of Staff. I know Rob Clarke, professionally speaking, and I believe him to be an exceptional choice for this job. While Director of OPLA Clarke has frequently been given the dubious honor of speaking in public at conferences and CLE events, including many sponsored by PLI, and has defended many of the ill conceived rules that gave the Patent Office such a black eye over the last several years. There will be some who will question whether Clarke, who has been perceived at times as the defender of the Patent Office position, is the right person for this job. My own view is that he is knowledgeable, energetic and extremely bright. I have long felt he was a rising star within the Patent Office, and have heard others refer to him as such. I do not hold against him the fact that he has been the public voice of the Patent Office explaining unpopular rules. Having as Chief of Staff someone who has interfaced with so many patent attorneys at various events suggests an open posture and sharp divergence with respect to how the USPTO has operated in recent years. This is all positive and a very welcome sign from Director Kappos.
Ironically, I was preparing to nominate Rob Clarke for the vacant position of Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy, who oversees the OPLA. It seemed like a logical choice to me, someone in the chain of command who is well regarded both inside the Patent Office and outside the Patent Office and who would be stepping up within the same wing of the Patent Office to take on more of a leadership role. Of course, Clarke taking on the job of Chief of Staff rules him out for the Deputy Commissioner slot, but such a high profile and important advisory position would seem to put Clarke in an even higher position with greater influence on the future of the Patent Office and patent policy.
The naming of Clarke as Chief of Staff continues to suggest that Director Kappos is going to surround himself with talented individuals who understand the patent system and can make the positive changes necessary to continue to lead the US patent system on an upward trajectory. An anonymous source familiar with USPTO operations told me:
Rob is a great person for this very critical position. I couldn’t be happier, and I think it is a positive sign about the high level appointments to come, and the direction that the Office will be going in under Kappos.
Over recent weeks Kappos has also announced the retirement of John Doll and named Bob Stoll as his successor as Commissioner for Patents. Peggy Focarino, the Acting Commissioner for Patents under the temporary reign of Doll has been named Deputy Commissioner for Patents. Nick Godici, a former Acting Director and former Commissioner for Patents, was brought back by the Obama Administration as a special advisor even before Kappos was sworn in as Director. In Patent Office terms it seems that the Obama Administration is turning to something of a patent dream team lead by Kappos. This bodes well for the future of the Patent Office. Having qualified, dedicated and informed people in key positions will make it much easier to tackle the patent backlog and the growing pendency of applications, problems that continued to worsen during the Bush Administration under Rogan and Dudas.
With respect to Bob Stoll, the previously mentioned anonymous source told me:
I have a very high regard for him, and his abilities, capability and knowledge. He is well aware of issues, and their importance – and I think he is an excellent choice. He will try to do what is best for all three key components of the patent system, namely: the USPTO, the patent bar and the general public. I think he will move prudently and appropriately – with proper careful consideration of competing, and often conflicting, interests. His background in the Office in patent corps, management and on the International scene – is really sound and varied.
The question now turns to who will Kappos tap to be the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy, a job posted as vacant and open for application through September 21. Conventional wisdom seems to not be able to predict appointments of top Patent Office leaders, with Kappos reaching down into the talent pool within the USPTO to pick those who are highly regarded. That being the case, I would expect this trend to continue and no rigid hierarchical rules to prevent the continued consolidation of well regarded people into the senior management ranks within the Patent Office.
I am extremely encouraged by this development and would agree that it bodes well for the future. It is no great secret that during the Dudas years the Patent Office lost a number of very talented individuals, which I believe contributed to some very bad policy choices being made. No organization can withstand the type of brain drain that occurred while Dudas was Director, and no organization should have so willingly marginalized those folks or pushed them aside. It is for this reason that it is all the more important for Kappos to carefully select his top leadership team because over the years talent has been depleted and morale has declined.
If the message is once again that the Patent Office is interested in issuing patents and talented people within the ranks who excel can and will be placed in positions of importance, that alone would make Kappos extremely successful. While we are hardly 6 weeks into the Directorship of Kappos the Patent Office is headed in the right direction and surrounding himself with a solid team will make it all the more likely that patent policy, day to day administration of the core duties of the Office and any new rules will be sensible and well considered. I also think it makes it more likely that the patent bar will no longer be marginalized and will become a welcomed participant in discussions about how to create a better patent system.