PTO Names AOL IP Counsel to GC Role

PTO Names AOL IP Counsel to GC Role

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has appointed a new general counsel: Sarah Harris, AOL Inc.’s deputy general counsel for intellectual property. She is the second person from the high-tech and software industry to fill a leadership spot at the agency.

Harris will fill the post previously occupied by Bernard Knight, who left the GC job last August when he returned to private practice. She will start at the PTO on April 21, an agency spokesman said.

“We are thrilled to welcome Sarah Harris as the USPTO’s new general counsel,” PTO deputy director Michelle Lee said in a statement. “She has a stellar record directing a global patent and trademark portfolio while leading a team of talented and skilled IP professionals.”

At the PTO, Harris will oversee an office of 100 lawyers and paralegals and three deputy general counsel. The GC is responsible for providing legal advice on patent, trademark and copyright matters, as well as administrative issues. The PTO general counsel also coordinates with the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and other agencies in developing the official U.S. position on major intellectual property cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and courts of pppeals, according to the PTO’s website.

In an email sent Thursday, Harris said she is still at AOL and could not discuss her new job. But she told Reuters she is “honored and thrilled about the opportunity to work with Michelle Lee and the other incredibly impressive people at the USPTO.”

Lee, a former deputy general counsel at Google Inc., currently serves as acting director of the PTO. The agency has been without a director since David Kappos, a former International Business Machines Corp. executive, left in February to return to private practice. The patent community has criticized the Obama administration for leaving the post vacant for so long.

But patent lawyers praised the decision to put Harris in the GC spot. “Sarah Harris is a great choice,” former PTO general counsel Knight, who is now a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, told “She is well-known in the IP community, is knowledgeable and experienced, and can hit the ground running.”

“It’s a great appointment,” said Rackspace Hosting Inc. special counsel Alan Schoenbaum, who has been outspoken about the patent troll problem and a vocal supporter of further patent reform. “I’ve worked with her directly on reform issues, and she’s great.”

Intellectual Property Owners Association executive director Herb Wamsley called Harris “an outstanding appointee,” and noted that she has been an active member of the IPO.

Harris has worked at AOL since 2007. There, she has been in charge of the company’s IP policies and strategies. In 2012, under her watch, AOL sold more than 800 patents and licensed 300 more to Microsoft for $1.056 billion.

“She clearly knows the value of patents,” Knight said.

In addition, Harris’ background in the software and technology industry is likely to support White House efforts to curb abusive patent litigation and patent troll activity, Knight said.

Prior to joining AOL, Harris worked in-house for Cooper Industries and was a director at Hewlett-Packard Company. She was also of counsel at the corporate law firm Haynes & Boone. She has a degree in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University and received her law degree at the University of Houston Law Center.

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