Before Phil Warrick began working for Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), Capitol Hill wasn’t in his career plans.
But when an opportunity to work with Coons emerged, he decided to take the leap. For two years, he served as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) IP counsel detailee to Coons after Coons helped to restart the Senate’s IP Subcommittee, working on bipartisan initiatives like the IDEA Act and legislation to fix the Section 101 patent eligibility mess. Those efforts were a dramatic departure from Congress’s previous fixation on the “patent troll” narrative.
“And for me, as a detailee, it was just a great opportunity to learn more about all these issues that were at play with intellectual property, and having really interesting conversations with folks on and off the hill, who said, I understand why this is your perspective, why you might have this view as a patent litigator, but let me give you this view from a completely different perspective,” Warrick says. “And it really opened my eyes.”
After Coons friend and fellow Delawarean, Joe Biden, was elected as president, the innovation community was hopeful that Coons would use his top role on the Subcommittee to prioritize patent issues within the Biden administration and Congress.
However, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had other ideas, and took over as the top Democrat on the Subcommittee. Since that time, the Subcommittee has moved in a very different, arguably anti-patent direction, and Leahy’s views have won out in seemingly every major administration decision related to patents.
But in yet another twist, Leahy has announced that he is retiring and won’t seek re-election in 2022. So, Coons is likely to return to his role as the top Democrat on the IP Subcommittee. Warrick’s insights from working for Coons are critical for anyone who wants to impact patent policy in the future.
- Capitol Hill staffers rely on a network they can trust. “It became apparent that a lot of people come to the Hill to lobby for various things. And everyone has an agenda, especially folks who are being paid.” As someone who had almost exclusively focused on patents, he had to rely on a close, trustworthy network that could lend a hand in areas like copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks.
- Compromise is key to getting IP legislation passed. When Warrick worked on legislation to fix Section 101, the effort fell apart before it even reached a committee vote. He says it was largely because key stakeholders were unable to compromise. “There needs to be some flexibility [when it comes to changing the law]. And also, just be realistic about the opposition and the fact that there’s probably going to have to be compromise with the folks who don’t want to change the law. Not everyone was prepared to do that.”
- Passing legislation is tough, but it’s still worth it to have a voice in the debate. Even the smallest changes to laws like Section 101 can have an impact on organizations with patents. Knowing the issue well — from the ins and outs of the legislation itself to all the ways it will impact the organization and potential solution — will put that company in a good position to have a voice in the debate. But the most important part: “Don’t be wedded to that specific solution. Because chances are, whatever you’ve typed up will not become law,” Warrick says.
[01:53] Getting to know patents: Warrick tells the story of how patent attorney Roger Emerson introduced him to the patent field in Akron, Ohio.
[04:54] A career curveball: Warrick never planned to work on Capitol Hill, but things changed when former Coons detailee Jamie Simpson told Warrick about the opportunity.
[11:38] Creating a network: Warrick shares the most important lessons he learned on the Hill.
[14:59] Working across the aisle: Warrick discusses the bills and initiatives he worked to push forward with on a bipartisan basis, including with former podcast guest Brad Watts.
[18:35] Section 101 legislation: why the effort to fix the state of patent eligibility ultimately failed.
[32:09] Saving America’s patent system: why Sen. Coons’ is fighting to get the Stronger Patents Act passed.
[40:41] Finding common ground: how Sen. Coons and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) were able to successfully work together on IP issues.
[42:58] The future of IP in the Senate: impact of Sen. Patrick Leahy, current chair of the IP subcommittee, retiring.
[43:58] A patent-unfriendly administration?: the Biden administration has taken a very different path on IP issues from what Sen. Coons would have chosen.
[46:56] A complex dynamic: how the complicated relationships and dynamics between Senators and issues that have nothing to do with IP impact patent policy. “And there certainly are situations where people are looking to get things done, they want to cut deals … [and] where you’re not debating one bill in isolation.”