“It has met and exceeded my expectations,” Sharon Israel told me during a recent interview to discuss her term as AIPLA President, which concludes at the end of the AIPLA Annual Meeting next week. “I thought I had a good idea of what my year would be like, but it went beyond what even I expected. There is a lot to be said for what AIPLA does in terms of advocacy, education, member services and global outreach – it is a wonderful organization.”
Each year the AIPLA Annual Meeting is held in Washington, DC. It is one of the major IP events of the year for professionals, and it also marks the end of a term for one President and the start of a new year for the next President. This year the annual meeting will begin on Thursday, October 21, 2015, and will run through Saturday, October 24, 2015. Highlights of the program will include an address by USPTO Director Michelle Lee in the opening plenary session, a luncheon address on Thursday by Judge Alan Lourie of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and a luncheon address on Friday by Maria Pallante, the Register of Copyrights.
“I’ve been very active in AIPLA for years, and this is my seventh year serving on the Board, so I came in knowing what to expect,” Israel explained. “But you don’t fully realize the role and the importance of the organization both internationally and domestically until you are actually President.”
During our conversation, I asked Israel about the priorities she set for the year. “I went in with some priorities, focusing on member outreach, enhancing the value of membership, and advocacy initiatives. This has been a year of transition for the association with a new Executive Director starting a few weeks after I became President. Working with Lisa Jorgenson has been terrific.” And that was the theme over and over again. It has also been the theme in many previous interviews with outgoing AIPLA Presidents. The AIPLA staff does an amazing job.
Israel acknowledged that it is an achievement in and of itself to be able to just keep everything going the way it always has, keeping the organization in good stead and ready to continue the important work it does year after year. She did point to several issues of importance. “We’ve seen a number of important issues this year, such as patent reform legislation and new and continuing initiatives at the USPTO, and we’ve been involved and engaged in those efforts. An issue critical for our members has been challenges dealing with the evolving law of patentable subject matter, so early on in my year I appointed a Patent Eligible Subject Matter Task Force to take a look at where the law has gone, where the law is shaping up, and looking at both the issues and potential solutions.”
On this last point, the patent eligible subject matter task force, Israel seems most proud. Many times these types of study groups get formed and little or nothing productive is achieved. Not for lack of trying, but there can be a preaching to the choir characteristic that is hard to break through. To make sure that the discussion is not lost in a study group Israel has scheduled a special Saturday morning presentation at the Annual Meeting. “We will have a President’s Forum on patent eligibility and talk about some of the ideas that have come out of our task force.”
In terms of challenges for incoming AIPLA President Denise DeFranco, “I think a lot of these issues will carry into the coming years—monitoring IP legislation on the Hill, patent eligible subject matter challenges, the PTAB being the new normal and being an important part of our members’ practice—these will be challenges that will continue,” Israel explained. “I think we have a terrific staff in place. Denise will be taking over an organization that is in really great shape and will be well positioned to further enhance services and offerings for our members.”
As her term comes to an end Israel is poised to focus more on her private practice at Mayer Brown LLP. “I’ve tried to balance my practice and I’ve had a firm that has been supportive of my AIPLA responsibilities, but I will have more time to devote on the client side as my term comes to an end,” Israel explained. “In terms of my practice there is a lot I’ve learned over the course of the last year that I want to apply, particularly in the area of PTAB trial proceedings, an area in which I already have been active in representing clients. My practice focuses on patent litigation, including at the district court and appellate levels, and PTAB proceedings are becoming the norm.”
Anyone familiar with the role of the AIPLA President knows that the commitment is a big one and it simply would not be possible without buy-in and support from the firm and partnership. “These opportunities come around very seldom, so you want to do what you can. I’ve put a lot of time into the organization and I’m not going to stop. My firm has been very supportive of AIPLA. Frankly, I couldn’t have done it without them,” Israel said. “I was able to dedicate a lot of time to AIPLA because of the platform offered by Mayer Brown and my colleagues in Houston and around the firm who supported me during this past year.