I was sitting in a ball room earlier today at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington, DC as a member of the press covering the AIPLA Annual Meeting. The Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos spoke about the Future of America’s Innovation Economy: Progress and Challenges at the USPTO. The format of his presentation was in the form of a Question and Answer session, moderated by Q. Todd Dickinson, himself a former Director of the USPTO and the current Executive Director of the AIPLA. There were hundreds of professionals in attendance, including many patent attorneys, patent examiners and judges. There were yellow cards on our table that we were asked to fill out before lunch that would allow us to ask questions of the Director during the session.
Before Dickinson asked any questions from the audience, Kappos started by addressing the backlog issue at the USPTO. He said that people wonder a lot about the backlog issue and that this is, to him, an extraordinarily important enterprise for the whole team at the USPTO to try and deal with — this gigantic backlog. He showed some graphs that he said he felt told the story that they are making some progress. “Are we making all of the progress we would like? No, we’ve got a lot more to do. But we are clearly making progress.” Kappos explained that they have been able to get their giant backlog down to 708,000, which represents that this is the first time the backlog has shrunk in quite a few years. “We are trying to take that number down to where we really want it, which is around 325,000 applications.”
One question in particular that stood out to me was the question about hiring at the USPTO. Director Kappos was asked to give us an idea on what the plans are for hiring examiners to the USPTO. Kappos started with “We want YOU to come work for the USPTO.” Laughter abounded. Dickinson quickly picked up on this saying: “Uncle Sam wants YOU!” More laughter all around. Kappos went on to explain that they are seeking experienced, well seasoned patent attorneys to come work for the USPTO. They want to hire another 1000 examiners. Dickinson then joked “Ah, so you weren’t kidding when you said you wanted them to work for the USPTO?”
One of the more interesting exchanges between Dickinson and Kappos was the following question and answer:
Dickinson: If you could change any one rule or patent statute at the USPTO what would it be and why?
Kappos: If I could change anything, honestly, what I would do would be to change over to first inventor to file because that is unquestionably an important best practice for our country and I feel very strongly about it and it makes me sad at times when I speak to groups and to folks who don’t understand how pro-inventor and pro-small inventor and how pro-independent inventor first inventor to file is. It is something that will pretty significantly move us to a best practice IP System.
If Gene were here he would be agreeing with Kappos no doubt. Gene has written about first inventor to file, and after initially siding with the first to invent crowd has been persuaded that first inventor to file makes sense because it gives inventors incentive to do what they should already be doing in the first place, which is filing applications sooner rather than later. To read our coverage of the first to invent versus first to file debate see Much Ado About Nothing Over First to File and Reform Doing Away with Interference Proceedings & First to Invent.
The final question of the question and answer exchange that I found to be quite interesting was the following:
Dickinson: What one thing from this past year would you like to be remembered for in the future?
Kappos: I would like the team, again in my view this is about Team USPTO, I would like us to be remembered for the partnership that we’ve had with our labor unions, all three of our labor unions; NTEU 243, NTEU 245 and POPA. I was enormously proud, just earlier this week over at the department of commerce, we convened in a big formal giant auditorium and the Secretary of Commerce comes in and hands out the awards for the best agency teams from the past year and the award that was given to the USPTO was given to a joint group, equally on stage. A group of our senior managers lead by Deputy Commissioner Focarino and equal umbers of our POPA union executive committee receiving an award for the breath taking job they did on putting that new accounting system into place. And that is so me the most important thing that we have engineered as a true partnership with our labor folks.
I will be in attendance again on Friday, so check back for more from the AIPLA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.