The US Patent and Trademark Office is a part of the Department of Commerce and as such is under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Commerce. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was Pres. Obama’s original selection for that post, but Richardson withdrew his name from consideration due to an ongoing federal investigation.
A new name has emerged as a candidate for this cabinet position. John W. Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec Corporation, announced that he will be retiring as CEO in April, a position he has held for 10 years. Symantec is a network security company. Prior to joining Symantec, Thompson had spent 28 years with IBM in various capacities.
On the one hand, it would be nice to have a Commerce Secretary who has a background in dealing with technology issues. This is especially true in light of the continued push for patent reform.
On the other hand, as previously noted by Dennis Crouch, Symantec is a leading member of the “Coalition for Patent Fairness.” Rather than focusing on fairness, the Coalition’s website includes an agenda for limiting the power of patents:
Over-broad patent grants stifle future innovators, while unjustified lawsuits that aim to extort settlements without regard to the merits of underlying patents clog the courts.
The lobbying group is pushing for patent reform through reduction of infringement damages, limitations on assertions of willful infringement, creation of a strong system for post-grant patent challenges, and reduction in patentee forum shopping. Dennis also notes:
Previously, the Coalition also supported eBay and reduced willfulness findings. Each of these changes reduce the potential power individual patents.
In any case, Mr. Thompson’s potential nomination gives some reason for optimism that Pres. Obama is seeking qualified individuals for government leadership posts. Hopefully, he doesn’t have a political agenda to further limit patents and make it too onerous to acquire and assert patents. There is general agreement that some changes are needed to the patent system. Changes that go too far, however, could stifle innovation and have a negative impact on the already precarious economy.