An interview with David Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO

Intellectual Property and Technology News

After David Kappos spoke at DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley office on March 1, 2010, Andrew Valentine (US Co-Chair of Patent Litigation and Managing Partner of our Silicon Valley office) had an opportunity to sit down one-on-one with him for an interesting Q&A session.


IPT: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for DLA Piper’s Intellectual Property and Technology News. You have been on the road a lot meeting with people in the high tech community. How has that been going?


Kappos: Very well. I try to meet people everywhere I go, which is all over the US. I meet with bar groups, independent inventors, companies, individuals. I enjoy listening to their perspectives, and the people I’ve met have already given me a lot of great ideas on how to help make the US a vehicle for innovation. I enjoy hearing from the US innovation community about what it is we need to do at the PTO in order to enable Americans to turn their innovations into jobs, put Americans to work, and create new products and services that make Americans healthier and bring wealth creation into the marketplace.


IPT: What has it been like joining the public sector after being at IBM so many years and running its IP department?


Kappos: In most ways, it has been very, very smooth. One of the deputies at the Agency had a great comment in a speech a while ago. She said that due to my long tenure in the system, when I started at the Agency it wasn’t like I had to hit the ground running, it was like I was dropped out of the chopper shooting. [Laughing] I thought that was well put. I have been a member of the IP community for a long time, so the learning curve was not too steep.


IPT: One thing on a lot of people’s minds is economic recovery. Do you view the PTO as having a role to play in that process?


Kappos: Absolutely. The PTO is the sleeping beauty of our economy. One of my jobs is to make that more apparent to policy makers, the public, the business sector and the world. The PTO is not just in the business of examining and granting patents and trademarks. The PTO is in the business of putting Americans to work. It really is our country’s innovation agency.


IPT: What do you view as the PTO’s role in the global economy given the globalization of manufacturing and innovation?


Kappos: I view part of my mission as exerting PTO and US policy leadership over all aspects of the intellectual property system on a global basis. Innovation is where the action is, and the only thing that protects innovation is patents. That makes patents the currency of our global innovation economy.


IPT: Have you incorporated Internet tools in spreading your message?


Kappos: Yes. I have a blog.1 It is a great way for me to communicate my thoughts on important issues. I believe I am the only appointed official at my level to blog.


IPT: You are testing out a new program relating to green technology and clean tech patents. Tell us about it.


Kappos: We have unveiled an exciting new initiative to drive innovation in the green technology sector, create new jobs, and increase US competitiveness in green technology. The initiative is a pilot program designed to reduce the average processing time of green technology patent applications. Through this program, existing applications for inventions that materially contribute to environmental quality, discovery or

development of renewable energy resources, more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources, or greenhouse gas emission reduction are eligible to be examined on an accelerated basis. The pilot is open to the first 3,000 applications for which a proper petition is filed. If successful, we hope to expand the program down the road. [Note: On May 21, 2010, the USPTO announced the expansion of the program to include more types of green inventions.]


IPT: What do you wish in-house and law firm practitioners better understood about the PTO?


Kappos: Communication is key. I’m spending a lot of energy encouraging and setting up new systems and metrics to make it easy and desirable for examiners to engage with applicants whenever it is apparent that a conversation can add value. It is the PTO’s job to help applicants find patentable subject matter if there is patentable subject matter, and to get valid and enforceable patents processed as quickly as we can. That involves outreach. Just as I encourage patent examiners to reach out to applicants, I encourage both in-house attorneys and law firm practitioners to reach out to their counterparts at the PTO any time a core issue relating to an application arises and have honest discussions about what matters.


IPT: So, on another subject…the President gets to pick out a piece of art from a Smithsonian gallery to hang on the wall in the Oval Office. Does the Director of the Patent and Trademark Office get any similar privilege?


Kappos: Yes. I get to pick out a patent model to display in my office.


IPT: Which patent model did you pick?


Kappos: [Smiling] The original patent model for Edison’s light bulb.



1 The Director’s blog is