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Obama Picks IBM Patent Guru to Head USPTO

Obama Nominates David Kappos as Patent Office director
David Kappos
Source: USPTO
In a move that could place a tech industry insider at the helm of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), President Obama plans to nominate David Kappos, vice president of intellectual property law at IBM, as its next director.

Kappos, who also holds the post of assistant general counsel at Big Blue, oversees "all facets of protecting and licensing IBM's intellectual property assets and leading IBM's engagement of intellectual property law policy issues," according to a White House statement.

The possibility of getting a tech-friendly name to head the USPTO is likely to be good news for many in the IT sector, which is rife with complaints about the current U.S. patent system.

For one thing, IT patent cases have been on a sharp rise over the past few years, with a growing number of cases brought by "non-practicing entities," or "patent trolls" as they're often called by critics.

Defending against such claims is expensive for tech firms, and one of the situations that advocates hope will be remedied as policymakers and IT lobbyists push for sweeping patent reform.

The USPTO also is contending with a patent application backlog of more than 770,000, long waiting periods for patent review, outdated IT systems of its own and an overhaul of its application process, the office said in a statement.

As the USPTO's new director, Kappos would bring a good deal of experience in dealing with the myriad issues involving tech patents. At IBM, he oversees management of IBM's patent and trademark portfolios, and is responsible for protecting, licensing and directing law operations around its intellectual property worldwide.

Kappos joined IBM in 1983 as a development engineer. Later, he served as an intellectual property law attorney in IBM's storage unit and the company's litigation group, as a law counsel on intellectual property for IBM's software group, and in other roles in IBM Asia/Pacific and IBM Corporate.

He has a degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California Davis and a law degree from UC California Berkeley.

Kappos will also assume the post of undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property if his nomination is confirmed by the Senate.

Already, the appointment of a tech-friendly exec to head the USPTO is receiving the thumbs-up from industry observers.

"President Obama has made an outstanding appointment in nominating David Kappos to become director of the Patent and Trademark Office," Gigi Sohn, president of policy group Public Knowledge and an outspoken advocate for patent reform, said in a statement.

"Kappos' background with a leading technology company ensures that he is aware of the need for reform of the patent process," Sohn added. "We also hope that Kappos will reevaluate the role that [the USPTO] has played in copyright issues, concentrating instead on fixing the patent issues that need immediate attention."

IT insiders echoed the sentiment.

"David Kappos is an excellent choice to head the USPTO," Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), said in a statement. "He has deep knowledge and experience and knows what is needed to reform the PTO's operations to foster U.S. innovation and economic growth."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has been pressing for patent reform legislation in Congress, added to the support for Kappos.

"His experience both as a development engineer and as a leading intellectual property attorney make Mr. Kappos exceptionally qualified to lead the Patent and Trademark Office," Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "The USPTO faces serious challenges in this difficult economic environment, and the office requires strong leadership. David Kappos is such a leader.

"I look forward to working with him on issues confronting the USPTO, including reducing the backlog and pendency of patent applications and modernizing the patent system as Congress considers the Patent Reform Act," Leahy said.

[cob:Special_Report]In addition to working at IBM, Kappos also serves on the board of directors for the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the International Intellectual Property Society and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, of which he also is a vice president.

Additionally, the president also named Warren "Pete" Miller, Jr., as his pick for the Department of Energy's director of the office of civilian radioactive waste management.

"The talent, commitment and expertise these two fine individuals possess make them valued additions to our team as we work to keep our nation safe and put us on a path to prosperity," Obama said in a statement. "Their decision to serve their country is commendable, and I look forward to working with each of them in the months and years ahead."