As has been widely expected, PTO Director Jon Dudas will resign by mid-month reports Dennis Crouch of Patently-O. Dudas has been responsible for several significant improvements at the PTO during his tenure as director, such as ending fee diversion, hiring a large number of additional patent examiners, and working on some pilot workshare programs with sister patent offices in foreign countries. He has also, however, been widely critcized as being responsible for many of the PTO woes that have been detailed in this blog: here, here, and here.
According to his PTO bio, Dudas has served as PTO Director since 2004 and as Acting Director and Deputy Director since 2002. Prior to his PTO appointments, Dudas was counsel to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property. Other than advising on some legislation, Dudas had little or no background in intellectual property prior to his appointment to the PTO.
Dudas’ predecessor, James Rogan, was a two-term congressman from California. After he was defeated for re-election, has was appointed Director of the PTO by President Bush in 2001. While in Congress, Rogan was a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Like Dudas, other than reviewing some legislation, Rogan had no background in intellectual property. Not since Q. Todd Dickinson during the latter part of the Clinton administration has the PTO Director had significant, or any, experience in patent law.
Acting Deputy Director John Doll is expected to become the Acting Director once Dudas’ resignation becomes official. Doll has spent over 34 years at the PTO working his way up from patent examiner to his current position. It is unlikely that he would be named permanent Director. As a lifetime PTO employee, Doll would not be viewed as a solution to current PTO problems with patents.
Barack Obama will have the opportunity to appoint a new PTO director once he takes office. Who will he appoint? Most criticism of the PTO has been on the patent side in recent years, complaints have included poor patent quality and increased backlog and pendency. The patent bar has also been clamoring for a patent-savvy PTO Director. Hal Wegner, highly-respected patent commentator and patent attorney with Foley & Lardner, probably speaks for a large part of the US patent bar when he states the number one priority for the incoming president when it comes to patent policy.
A new Director for the PTO who is a knowledgeable expert can do wonders to turn around the patent ship of state: A President is needed who will understand the significance of this appointment and not treat the Under Secretary title as a fungible political plum to be treated like a FEMA-like appointment.
One of the names that has been mentioned is Shanna Winters, Chief Counsel to the House Subcommittee on The Courts, Internet, and Intellectual Property. Sound familiar? Apparently, she really wants the job. Wegner states that “I’ve heard it from some very reliable people that she is actively seeking” the USPTO post. Winters would appear to be another political appointee who lacks significant patent experience.
There would be opposition to her appointment from some in the patent community. Intellectual Property Watch reports that patent analyst Greg Aharonian would file a lawsuit to stop the appointment.
“Shanna has no management experience, no experience with patent prosecution or litigation, no experience with information technology management, etc… all essential to restore the health of the PTO,” Aharonian told Intellectual Property Watch Friday. “Shanna’s appointment would be an insult to inventors, patent lawyers and patent examiners, and would further accelerate the decline of patent quality at the PTO.”
Another name that has been mentioned is former PTO Director Q. Todd Dickinson. Dickinson is the recently-named executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) and is a registered patent attorney. Prior to his tenure as PTO Director, Dickinson was Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property and Technology at Sun Corporation and also worked in the IP departments at Chevron and Baxter Travenol Labs. Dickinson clearly meets the desire for a patent savvy director.
Arti Rai, law professor at Duke University, has been mentioned as a possible PTO Director. Professor Rai was a law school classmate of Obama at Harvard. On IP issues, she has been at the forefront of his campaign and is a member of his agency review team on science, technology, space, arts and humanities. She is also one of the authors to an amicus brief supporting the PTO’s ill-conceived continuation/claim limitation rules, a position generally disfavored by the patent bar. While Professor Rai’s paper and academic credentials are impressive, she is not a registered patent attorney and has never written or prosecuted a patent.
Many other names have been suggested, but no one really knows whether Obama will use this nomination as a chance to change and hopefully improve patent practice at the PTO, or if he will simply use it as another political appointment for a favorite supporter. What does this mean for us? We’ll have to wait and see, but we can hope Obama does the right thing.