President Obama picks David Kappos as USPTO Director, first open source fan to run USPTO

Our impressions about this appointment are positive, but we would like to hear from others. IBM has been very smart on IPR issues lately, recognizing that knowledge is often more valuable when shared. Coming from a successful technology firm, he will have both credibility and insight into innovation policy. He brings more balance to the job than anyone we can remember. Below are some interesting quotes from various articles.

February 2007 interview in IP Review online

Managing IP the IBM way.
What’s happening at the moment is that IBM’s IP lawyers are being aligned along a new philosophical axis. Under the leadership of Palmisano and the direction of Dr John E Kelly III, IBM’s senior vice-president for technology and intellectual property, the approach to patent protection is shifting. After years of strenuously protecting all its patents the company is now backing the movement towards open standards. And this is changing everything.

‘We are now the biggest supporters of the open source development project,’ explains David. ‘Admittedly this policy is not easily reconcilable with our traditional IP strategy, but we are convinced that it is the way to go for the future.’

In a nutshell, the open source movement aims to encourage the sharing of systems so as to maximise the accessibility and use of information technology. By breaking down protective attitudes and encouraging people to drop the legal barriers around their intellectual property the open source movement believes that, in the long run, it will enable the technology to fulfil its potential and best serve its customers.

David is able to speak confidently about these issues because, like many IBM lawyers, he is a ‘tekkie’ by origin. ‘IP lawyers at IBM need to have deep domain expertise – it’s a must-have,’ he explains. ‘In my case I gained a degree in Electrical and computer Engineering before switching across to law. It would frankly be very difficult to do my job without a technical background. You have to be able to speak the language of the technical experts with whom you are dealing.’

As well as occupying a key role in IBM, David has also held various leadership positions in IP law associations in Asia and the US. Indeed it is the drive for industry leadership which has inspired the company’s latest initiative, launched in autumn 2006, to introduce a new, groundbreaking corporate policy governing the creation and management of patents. Linked to IBM’s support for open source, the policy aims to ‘encourage others in the patent community to adopt similar policies and practices, more stringent than currently required by law’.

The purpose of this, as David explains, is to avoid using IP inappropriately and to manage its patents in a way that exceeds legal obligations. ‘It’s a fundamental strategic shift,’ says David, ‘meaning that we want patents to be used as a tool of inclusion. We want to show that patents can be used to facilitate the development of the open source environment.’

Being open
As a concrete demonstration of its commitment IBM has donated 500 specific patents to the Open Source Movement so that anyone can use them. ‘This would have been unthinkable a decade ago,’ says David, ‘but it is the way forward. Our intention is to continue to donate and to build more on top of the open source platform.’

And also this article:

‘Eco-Patent Commons’ hopes to improve environmental innovation
San Francisco Chronicle , Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer, Monday, January 14, 2008

IBM Corp., Nokia, Sony and Pitney Bowes are expected to announce Monday that they have put 31 inventions into an “Eco-Patent Commons” designed to make these Earth-friendly manufacturing and waste-reduction processes more widely available.

“This is an open source effort along the lines of the Creative Commons,” said IBM assistant general counsel David Kappos, who is responsible for the company’s intellectual property.

The open source movement, symbolized by the free Linux operating system, believes that innovation occurs more quickly when new ideas and processes are open to the public for anyone to troubleshoot and improve.

The Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization devoted to the same idea of openness, but with a focus on copyrighted works like entertainment and literature.

Until now, patents have been the antithesis of these sorts of free-for-all philosophies, because a patent enables its holder to have exclusive control over the invention for a period of up to 20 years, the idea being to give the inventor a chance to recoup the effort during this period of exclusivity.

The Eco-Patent Commons adopts this activist tactic in certain fields – like waste reduction – where the participating firms have decided that the societal benefit of having every willing manufacturer adopt these cleaner processes outweighs any potential advantage they might gain by keeping the idea close to the vest.

“You don’t have to ask permission, you don’t have to pay a royalty,” Kappos said.

Or this:

Denise Howell, AlwaysOn Stanford Summit: lawyers for Google, IBM, and Apple ponder the patent system, ZDNet August 1st, 2007.

David Kappos, VP and Asst. Gen. Counsel, Intellectual Property Law, IBM: For some industries the current patent system is working well, bio and pharma in particular. But from the standpoint of the information technology industry, where patents are regularly granted that have significant quality problems and there’s no regularized market for understanding the validity and value of a patent, it’s easy to view the system as broken.

David Kappos: IBM is the largest patent holder. Question: should the government be more concerned with hiring more patent examiners or dealing with the patent troll problem? David doesn’t think hiring more examiners is a fix for all the current patent problems. The patent office also needs to move to a much more adaptive process, leverage technology in the public domain, and reach out to the communities that exist in this area.

David Kappos: Something that might be a little bit controversial that he would tell clients is to be cognizant of what others are doing. There is a school of thought that you shouldn’t look at others’ patents because you can be liable for enhanced damages if you’re found to have infringed. Kappos thinks it’s better to know what’s going on, and he tends to take the defensive yet proactive approach of looking at others’ portfolios. IBM does clear its products and services initiatives in advance, and takes advantage of its thousands of cross-licensing deals. You don’t want to put a product out then have to face someone with a patent you have no way of answering.

Here is the USPTO press release on the appointment.

President Obama Announces Intent to Nominate David Kappos as Patent and Trademark Director

President Barack Obama on Thursday announced his intent to nominate David Kappos, an experienced patent professional with more than 20 years of experience, as the new Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

“The United States Patent and Trademark Office faces significant challenges, and it needs an experienced leader like David at the helm,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “He will be a strong voice for patent reform and I have tasked him to reduce dramatically the unacceptably long time the office takes to review patent applications.”

Over a 20-year career, Kappos has accrued deep knowledge of the patent system and broad respect from professionals across the field – including the biotech, life sciences and high tech sectors. He is currently vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property at IBM. Specifically, Kappos manages IBM’s patent and trademark portfolios – protecting and licensing intellectual property worldwide.

If he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kappos will take control of an office that provides incentives to encourage technological advancement and helps businesses protect their investments, promote their goods and safeguard against deception in the marketplace. The office continues to deal with a patent application backlog of more than 770,000, long waiting periods for patent review, information technology systems that are regarded as outdated and an application process in need of reform.

Kappos serves on the Board of Directors of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the Intellectual Property Owners Association, and the International Intellectual Property Society. He is also the Vice President of the Intellectual Property Owners Association. He has held various previous leadership positions in intellectual property law associations in Asia and the U.S. He has spoken widely in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. on intellectual property topics.

Kappos received his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California-Davis in 1983, and his law degree from the University of California Berkeley in 1990. He joined IBM in 1983 as a development engineer and has served in a variety of roles before taking his current position, including intellectual property law attorney in IBM’s Storage Division and Litigation group, IP Law Counsel in IBM’s Software Group, assistant general counsel for IBM Asia/Pacific, IBM Corporate Counsel and assistant general counsel.