The director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will leave the position in January 2013 after more than three years implementing broad changes to the country's patent system, he announced on Nov. 26.
David Kappos is widely respected among intellectual property lawyers for his grasp of issues regarding patents in the age of software and the Internet, as well as his knowledge of how to implement change in a large organization like the Patent Office.
Kappos is also known for reducing the backlog of patent applications and worked hard to bring the best talent to the patent office, including reinvigorating the patent trial appeal board and the examining corps, said Michael Messinger, a partner at Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox and an adjunct professor for patent prosecution at George Mason University School of Law.
"He was one of our best commissioners in the [last] 30 years," Messinger said. "He really understood that we're in the knowledge economy and understood well the role of patents in promoting innovation in the U.S. economy."
Kappos has led the office during a time when intellectual property was in flux, said Gary Hoffman, a partner at Dickstein Shapiro with more than 35 years of experience with IP issues. That meant implementing new decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and other appeals courts that weren't always the easiest to understand, such as what constitutes a patentable idea.
"He was the best you could have" at implementing Supreme Court decisions, Hoffman said. "He probably did a better job trying than anybody else could have."
Kappos' main task over the last year was implementing the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which was signed in to law in September 2011 and is reshaping the U.S. patent system. Kappos received praise from one of the bill's authors, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.
"He and his team have set the PTO on course to implement the key provisions of the Act, which will improve the patent system for decades to come," said Leahy. "Director Kappos's leadership of the PTO has been applauded by Democrats and Republicans, and by all sectors of the business community."
Not all of those provisions have been put into place yet, making this a critical time for direction at the PTO. "He's launched it, it's aimed very well," Messinger said. "The timing of his departure is going to make it even more important that we all look at making sure the implementation process keeps going with the quality standards that Kappos set."
Kappos also took on the backlog of patent applications, and was willing to engage the patent office unions and staff and look at the work flow processes that govern how examiners carry out their work, Messinger said.