David Kappos, who stepped down last month as director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, has joined Cravath, Swaine & Moore as a partner. 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 IP 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’ 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.