Joff Wild

Last night I got an email from someone who is usually well-informed about these things. It told me that David Kappos, currently in charge of IP law at IBM, is to be appointed the new Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, subject to vetting.

Should Kappos be confirmed in the post, it would not be earth shattering news. He has been one the favourites for the job  for a while and has been identified by several reliable sources, such as PatentlyO and IP Watchdog, as the person most likely to get the nod. That said, it would still be a fascinating appointment. As head of IBM's global IP law operation, Kappos has overseen a group that has consistently ranked number one in patent grants at the USPTO. He has had a lot to say about patent quality - like many other users of the office - but IBM has not always practised what it preaches with regard to the quality of its own applications - something for which Kappos is ultimately repsonsible, of course.

Although Kappos ticks all the boxes in terms of his patent and general IP experience, both in the US and internationally,as I wrote a while back I can see his appointment raising quite a few eyebrows in certain parts of the US patent community. His views on patent quality, as well as what IBM has had to say on issues such as software and business method patents under his leadership will not go down well in certain quarters; neither will the fact that he is so closely identified with Big Blue and the high-tech sector. Where is his experience of other industries and their patent needs, some may ask; while others will wonder whether such a patent insider is the man the government's IP agency should have in charge - can he distance himself from industry and represent the interests that all Americans have in their IP system?

However, whoever gets the job as Director is not going to please everyone. For what it's worth, I think Kappos would be a great choice. I have been writing about IP since 1992 and have seen a number of USPTO Directors come and go. Whatever their merits, none of them had the deep industry experience that Kappos has. And it seems to me that an industry appointment is exactly what the office needs - someone who can relate what the office does to the wider world and who understands how the decisions it takes affect company investment choices, as well as bottom line performance. As you would expect of someone that has worked at IBM for over 20 years, Kappos also knows a bit about IT, an area where the USPTO needs to do a lot of work. It's also worth mentioning that IBM has also come out publicly in favour of the damages apportionment compromise recently agreed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I have met Kappos on several occasions and have always been impressed by him. He strikes me as an innovative thinker about IP, who is open to new ideas and who is prepared to discuss issues with people who might hold views that do not coincide with his own. Whether he is a politician, though, remains to be seen. And that is one big skill that any USPTO Director needs in this age of blogs, instant reaction and growing corporate and political awareness of the importance of IP issues.

One note of caution: just because everyone thinks that Kappos is going to be nominated for the job, it does not mean that he will be. As we all know, vetting for whoever the administration wants was underway at the start of May and over five weeks later nothing has been confirmed. It makes you wonder why it is taking so long - has something turned up that the Obama team does not like, for example? Given the strong Kappos rumours currently, if someone else is announced a whiff of second choice will linger around them for a while. That will not be a problem should the person make a strong start at the USPTO, but it could cause trouble if he or she does not. Anyway, we shall see. And hopefully quite soon.