New Leadership at the USPTO

The USPTO has a new leader. On Thursday, August 13, David Kappos was sworn in as the Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He’s the 52nd person to hold that position since it was established in 1836.

The appointment and confirmation of Kappos was fairly speedy: only 6 months and 24 days after President Obama’s inauguration. President George W. Bush took almost eleven months to appoint James E. Rogan head of the USPTO in 2001. Bruce Lehman, President Clinton’s first Commissioner of Patents, was sworn in on Aug. 11, 1993.

How long will Kappos stay? The average term in recent years is between 2-4 years. Jon Dudas, Kappos’ immediate predecessor, served from Jan. 2004 to Nov. 2008 (including 5 months as acting director). James Rogan, President Bush’s first USPTO chief, served barely two years, from Dec. 2001 to Jan. 2004. Q. Todd Dickinson also served just 2 years, Jan. 1, 1999 to Jan. 20, 2001, including almost a year as acting director. Bruce Lehman served from 1993 through the end of 1998, almost 5.5 years.

Kappos faces a number of tough challenges including a huge backlog of pending applications, declining revenue due to lower filings and fewer paid maintenance fees, delayed patent reform legislation and disatisfaction among the USPTO’s 6,000 patent examiners.

The longest serving USPTO directors of the last hundred years were Thomas E. Robertson, who served during the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations from 1921 through 1933, and Conway Coe, who served from 1933 through 1945. The director with the shortest tenure was Melvin Coulston, who served just one month, March 3 to April 5, 1921.

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