David Kappos, who stepped down last month as the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, has joined the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
The move is unusual in that Cravath is known for selecting its partners almost exclusively from within its ranks. Kappos is only the fourth Cravath partner brought in as a lateral hire in a half century, according to a Cravath spokeswoman. The most recent partner to join the firm from the outside is Christine Varney, who, like Kappos, was a high-ranking government lawyer. She went to Cravath in August 2011 after serving as head of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
Luring Kappos is a coup for Cravath, which will be able to use the former senior Obama administration official to bolster its intellectual property expertise and reputation at a time when issues surrounding patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and other forms of IP have become more important both in corporate law and litigation.
“When we heard that Dave was leaving the PTO, we knew he would be a perfect fit for us,” said Allen Parker, Cravath’s presiding partner. “We were certain Dave was the person we’d been waiting for to enhance our IP practice and meet a growing client need for IP support.”
Kappos’s connections to Cravath stem back to his days as a senior in-house lawyer at IBM, which has been a steady and important client at Cravath for many years. Kappos worked at IBM, the world’s largest patent holder, for more than 25 years. Before leaving the company in 2009, he was IBM’s vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property—a position that put him in charge of all of IBM’s global IP activities.
At the PTO, Kappos spearheaded improvements to an intellectual property system that many considered broken. He has received praise for making it more efficient, more transparent, and for improving the quality of patents granted by the office. He also played a key role in the passage and implementation of the America Invents Act—legislation that establishes some of the biggest changes to U.S. patent law in 60 years. The final and most major of the reforms—transforming the process of getting a patent in the U.S. to a first-to-file system rather than first-to-invent—takes effect next month.
Although Cravath rarely brings in partners from the outside, the firm didn’t hesitate to pursue Kappos, Parker said. When the news broke that Kappos would be leaving the PTO, the firm moved quickly. A partner whom he had worked with when he was at IBM reached out to him immediately, Kappos said, and he then made several visits to Cravath to meet all the partners and talk with the people he’d likely be working with. Other law firms, corporations, and organizations wooed him as well, but Kappos said he knew Cravath was the right place to go.
“I have always felt a deep appreciation and affinity for the Cravath culture and history,” the 51-year-old attorney told CorpCounsel.com. “I knew it was the perfect spot and a natural fit for me.”
Kappos will be advising clients on all facets of intellectual property at Cravath, Parker said.
Cravath, founded in 1819, is no stranger to intellectual property issues. It handled patent litigation related to the electric light bulb for Thomas Edison, and it also was the firm hired by Samuel Morse to handle patent litigation surrounding the telegraph. In more recent years, Cravath’s clients have included the telecommunications company Qualcomm, pharmaceutical giants such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis, and several media companies—all in industries that face an ever-growing need for IP support.
While at the PTO, Kappos, a graduate of the University of California’s Berkeley Law School, reduced the agency’s backlog of patent applications, hired new patent examiners, and established satellite offices in major U.S. cities outside the Washington, D.C., beltway.
“IP has been part of our practice for a long time, and we have a substantial client need that’s been growing over time,” Parker said. “We knew we were willing to supplement our IP practice if we could find the right person, and the moment we realized Dave was available, we knew this was the opportunity we’d been waiting for.”
Contact Lisa Shuchman at firstname.lastname@example.org.