I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Terry Rea for an interview in her office on the campus of the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia. Among other things, in part 1 of my interview with the newly minted Deputy Director Rea we discussed Obama Administration interest in harmonizing patent laws, but standing firm on patent eligibility remaining very broad in the United States. In part 2 of the interview we discuss the energizer bunny, known better as USPTO Director David Kappos. We also discuss what skills she has brought from a private law practice that she feels will help her most at the Patent and Trademark Office. Finally, we discussed initiatives the USPTO is pursuing to assist women entrepreneurs and the inevitable questions about where we stand with patent reform.
Unfortunately, due to a tight schedule we were not able to get to some of the familiar fun questions that give us a look at Terry Rea the person, such as favorite author, favorite movie and that sort of thing. She has agreed to go back on the record, so that will be forthcoming at a date and time yet to be determined.
Without further ado, part 2 of my interview with Terry Rea, the Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
QUINN: Okay. Now, and I know you’ve said you’ve only been here for a little while. But you have a vast array of experience in our little space from many different facets. So I wonder what have you drawn on in your time here already, what skill set? And maybe looking ahead, which skill sets do you think that you’ve acquired are going to be most useful?
REA: Probably one of my more valuable skill sets is my international work and international experience, both with patent prosecution and my opportunities with AIPLA to lead delegations. Because going into those harmonization talks that Dave had held to weeks ago, it wasn’t an entirely new experience. And even though that was my first meeting being with heads of offices, I was still comfortable. It was still a new experience, because it’s not something where you can have observers and NGOs can’t be there. But it was probably the AIPLA experience and my patent prosecution experience having a lot of clients internationally, as I would assume you do, too.
REA: And it’s valuable just to understand where they’re coming from.
QUINN: Yes. As a matter-of-fact, I do a lot of software type stuff.
QUINN: So I get clients—because where they’re located, and going back to my question earlier, where they’re located they can’t get very much protection, if any at all.
REA: But they can get—
QUINN: They can get good protection here.
QUINN: So I have a fair number of Australian clients, and a fair number of clients from the UK.
QUINN: And elsewhere as well. And how exactly that’s developed, I’m not exactly sure.
REA: Duncan Bucknell from Australia?
QUINN: Yeah, well, that may be helpful. To tell you the truth, I never really thought about this, but they do come through my website. And those two countries I just named are obviously English speaking countries, so they can more readily read the stuff that I write. So that’s probably why. But I think any attorney in our little space has foreign clients. So that’s interesting to see that you think that that will be valuable.
REA: And I can’t tell you exactly what else I may be able to draw on. Certainly my strength is pharmaceuticals and biotech and life sciences. But I haven’t been confronted with any of those issues quite yet. So who knows? My expertise might come in handy at some point.
QUINN: I guess that sort of depends what happens with Myriad, and I don’t want to suggest that you should answer, or even open your mouth at the moment.
QUINN: But that’s a big, hot issue at the moment. So I can envision your substantive expertise being quite useful at some point here.
REA: Yes. So we’ll wait and see. But so far just international experience, both patent prosecution and my association work in terms of interacting with delegations.
QUINN: You also did litigation quite a bit?
REA: Correct, yes.
QUINN: I suppose that frantic pace has helped you deal with what some people refer to as the energizer bunny.
QUINN: David Kappos.
REA: Yeah, that’s totally correct. That guy, does he sleep? He does get an awful lot accomplished—two lifetime’s worth by one person.
QUINN: Yes, I’ve kind of wondered whether or not he’s like Data from Star Trek. Like an android. Because he seems like he just accomplishes so much.
REA: His thinking is methodical, and analytical, and he follows through, and he keeps it going, and it doesn’t stop.
QUINN: Right. And he doesn’t appear to need any sleep either. I mean, the people are getting their money’s worth, it seems.
REA: Oh, yes. Dave was an excellent, excellent choice.
QUINN: And it seems – it’ll be interesting to get your perception of this too, if you’d like to. It seems that the people at the Patent Office who, have always been very dedicated, seem to be dedicated on a completely different level now.
REA: They’re energized, they’re more vibrant. Dave’s got a focus and he’s leading them in a clear direction and they know where they’re going. But they’re energized.
QUINN: Yes. That’s my sense as well. Okay. Now, I know you were at the Women’s Symposium last week.
QUINN: Because after it was all over my wife, Renee, who was there, and wrote about the event, talked to you. And you gave her a quote. And I’d like to quote it. “I hope today’s event will be the first of many outreach initiatives we offer to address the specific needs and challenges of today’s innovative, entrepreneurial woman.”
Can you tell us what other outreach initiatives might be in the works to assist women entrepreneurs?
REA: Okay, there are actually four different areas that we’re thinking about right now. The first is a public roundtable to explore the needs of women entrepreneurs. The second thing we’re thinking of right now is sort to give them additional information to women entrepreneurs through the USPTO website. So we want to give them enhanced information more directed to that segment of customer. Also we hope to bring, if possible, these women’s symposiums to different geographic locations. It’s convenient to hold them here, but it would also be nice to try and bring them to different venues to attract even more. We actually had great attendance last time. People came from very far away parts of the United States, including California. So we had great attendance. But to actually go to those venues, I’m sure we could draw out a whole lot more people. So we hope to do that as we’ve done with independent inventors, for example, all over the country.
REA: Right, right.
QUINN: And the symposium only cost like $40.
REA: Right. But part of that is because we could hold it here. If we’re going to hold it outside this area, I don’t know if the cost—I would like to think we’d still find a way to do it in a cost-effective manner. Because we attracted students, small entrepreneurs, large entrepreneurs. It was really quite a diverse group of people. So the cost is really important. Then the fourth future event was regularly scheduled webinars on topics that might be pertinent or relevant or of interest to women entrepreneurs. And a little bit we say that because we can’t go to every geographic location, that’s not going to be possible. And so webinars would also be useful and in this day and age people find them to be just as valuable.
QUINN: Right, right. And I think webinars are a good idea. But just to jump back to the seminars here.
QUINN: And I think it’s great to go out into government by and for the people reaching out to the people. But what I have told the inventors, because last time was the first time that I had participated in the inventors workshop here to the level that I had, and I got to thinking it’s like they charge, it was maybe $100 on that magnitude for a two day program. And you get two lunches out of it, and you get to meet examiners from every technology. You get to meet Dave, and I’m sure you will be there next time, and folks like Peggy Focarino and Bob Stoll are there. And Sharon Barner was there last time.
REA: And they try and bring people from Capitol Hill, too.
QUINN: Yes, and those opportunities just don’t present themselves.
QUINN: Invaluable. So just my little pitch would be is that I think it’s great to go out to the community, but I think it’s also good to do it on campus because you couldn’t transplant all the examiners with you to those kinds of events.
QUINN: So I think it’s good to hear that you’re reaching out and trying to do a lot for the people. This seems to be in keeping with what Dave talks a lot about trying to incentivize and work with, and help those people who are individuals in small businesses where you’re more than likely to get the jobs.
REA: That’s correct.
QUINN: Okay. Now, with women it seems that there’s probably a more unique set of—I’ll say difficulties, because society to me seems to hold women to a different standard. You have to be thorough and complete at home, and you have to be thorough and complete in the business world. What would you say to women who were just starting out? What words of wisdom would you have for them navigating both their daily lives and trying to navigate a career?
REA: Keep things as balanced as possible. Perfection is not attainable because no matter what we attain, we always assume perfection is one step beyond it. And that’s not the case. I just try and keep a balance. I have three children. All of mine are in college right now. So they’re not at home, so I feel flexible and free and I don’t have that problem. For female entrepreneurs, though, they have something beyond personal life and work life. The venture capital, their funding type issues, they do seem to have huge barriers with funding. And at that women’s symposium people there spoke about how they had to collaborate with other entities just to get in the funding. And the other entity typically had a male as a front person but didn’t bring any value to the technology, yet that was the only way to get access to the capital.
QUINN: Why do you suppose that is? Do you have any theories?
REA: You know, women, we have a slightly different style. We maybe don’t fit the mold of an entrepreneur. But diversity is a good thing, and there’s enough women who know what they’re doing who have succeeded that I would think that if somebody has a good business model you would look at the business plan, you’d look at the technology, and you’d look at the person who put their heart and soul and created that, and that you would go with them. But I just think that the access to capital is a little bit of an issue. Senator Mary Landrieu is to trying to do something on that issue and to bring attention to that. She has a very unique position because she oversees the SBA.
QUINN: Right. She can actually accomplish something.
REA: Right. And she’s very practical and she’s very personable, and she’s business minded at the same time.
QUINN: Okay. Now, in listening to you talk about those funding issues, and in looking at the four things that you just were talking about, is that sort of the additional information that you’re going to try and get on to the website and get out to women entrepreneurs that will help them navigate some of these issues that have been proven difficult. And maybe the roundtables might be in order to identify the issues that they’re finding more difficult than others?
REA: Right. But I think that what we’re going to focus is not just funding issues, or obtaining patent or trademark protection. I think we’re looking at to some extent the whole business picture and the whole business model. The USPTO, we add value and we can best describe what goes on here at the patent and trademark, or the trademark and patent office. And so this is what we know. But there’s a little bit more to the picture. So if they have roundtables they can—it’ll sort of give them an umbrella to communicate, meet new friends, meet people with similar issues and problems. And when you get enough people together talking, they might be able as a group to do something and to show there’s a lot of people with these issues and to move things ahead. A lot of people, a lot of women don’t know what to do. I don’t think they’re given as many suggestions as guys are in business.
QUINN: Right, right. That probably is true.
REA: People help you behind your back. People also offer anecdotes. And I think more people offer perhaps males the anecdotes than the females. I don’t know why. I’ve never really—I’ve never been a solo practitioner, so I really don’t know. You had to leave your business; it does have whole new issues and concerns.
QUINN: They really, really do. And I’m just sitting here thinking, one of the things I’ve noticed in teaching a patent bar review course over the years is is that it seems that there’s more and more women that are getting into the patent space. I suspect that is probably because, well for many reasons, but I think it probably demonstrates that there are more women involved in the sciences in colleges. Even when I went to college, which wasn’t that long ago, although to a teenager it’s probably ancient history, there were not very many women in the class, but that is a dynamic that I think is changing. As a teacher I always try and figure out how I can explain it so you can get it.
QUINN: What I was hearing as you were speaking is that when we articulate these things so that men get them.
REA: Yes, everyone learns in different ways, and that’s totally correct. But there are more and more women with identical training to males in the sciences. However, in life sciences, which is what I’m in, there are a lot of females. In engineering and the computer and IT industry, they still have less representation in those disciplines than what they should.
QUINN: That’s interesting. I’m going to have to give this a lot more thought because in some ways it is probably a lot more complicated, but then maybe at the end of the day the solution is just as easy as to figure out how to communicate with people.
QUINN: Because I think it’s fair to say that the folks that are in life sciences think a little bit differently than the folks in the electronic and computer space.
QUINN: It’s just the same way that you would think differently from an artist. But you’re all using very creative and intellectual parts of the brain. But how do you convey information.
REA: Right. Right. It’s different.
QUINN: Okay. Well, I know we’re running out of time. I’ll cut the fun stuff and maybe we can do that some other time.
REA: We can do that some other time, that’s great.
QUINN: Just to change gears quickly. I wanted to talk to you about patent reform a bit.
QUINN: Where do we stand, what can we expect? Do you have anything to report on maybe what to expect out of the house, that sort of thing.
REA: I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm, and there’s a lot of talent pushing for patent reform right now. I think that we’ve never been as close as we are right now. I mean, I think that right now we’ve got a great deal of momentum. The Senate certainly I think sent out a mandate 95 to 5 with their bill. I mean, that vote was just very, very impressive. The House is going to notice with all the moment they got from the Senate. When the House is back in session next week, they may actually drop a bill at that time. Whether they will or not, I am far from being able to predict the future. I’ve been wrong on patent reform so many times.
QUINN: We all have been.
REA: Yes, that’s correct.
QUINN: But I think a lot of people are starting to see where the wind is blowing on this.
QUINN: The question for me seems to be is, one, how quickly does the House act. Because the more quickly the more likely it would seem.
QUINN: And then, two, is is how close are what they’re going to come up to be with the Senate. Because if they’re going to create a wholly different bill, we’re back to square one.
REA: Yes. I’m optimistic that on the big issues–you know, they already dropped damages, they already dropped venue from the bill, things that were very controversial from the Senate bill. So we don’t expect to see those in the House bill. But then again, can the House “improve” quote-unquote on the Senate bill or some up with something, a new novel approach or something that would benefit our users? They could very well do that. So I think that their bill will have the same structure. There might be a little bit of variability. And then the Senate, when they clearly think it’s a good idea to have a bill, will compromise through Conference on the bill.
I think that right now nobody wants to undo the bill. I think that anybody who doesn’t want to the bill to go forward, that the naysayers are—more of the truth is coming out for instance with the first to file system. The fact that frankly it gives everyone, large, small, medium inventors micro entities, more business certainty. And that interference practice really is such an expensive unpredictable endeavor that it really never really helped the solo inventors and the small inventors. Even though theoretically that was what was believed a number of years ago. In practice it’s not a system that benefited them.
QUINN: It’s a feel good system, feel good role.
REA: And we’d love to give micro entities a 75% discount on track one, for example, so they can really take advantage.
QUINN: Well, that would make track one incredibly attractive.
REA: Right, right, and that’s what we’d like to do.
QUINN: Because that’s at that point about an extra $1000.
QUINN: My feeling is if you can’t afford $1000 to get a patent decision in a year, you probably ought not to be going down this path anyway.
I know you need to run, but just one quick thing, if you can.
QUINN: Can you tell us what getting patent reform would mean for the Patent Office in terms of the money and in terms of the fee setting.
REA: You know, funding has been an issue for this agency for some time. We’re optimistic that if a bill passes that we would be able to spend all of the fees that we take in, and that’s what we need to do. We’ve got a lot of improvements that need to be done. There’s also inter-partes review and patent opposition practice that’s in S. 23 right now. Those will create a lot of work for our current board of patent appeals and interferences. We’re going to have to hire many new administrative patent judges in order to do the job right. We’re also trying to get more efficient with even reexamination right now with our appeals procedures. So the more money we have, the better we can do our jobs, the better we can serve our user community.