Joff Wild

I am in Boston currently for the AIPPI International Congress. Yesterday I had lunch with Todd Dickinson, who took over from Mike Kirk as the executive director of the AIPLA (American Intellectual Property Law Association) last Monday, 1st September. To judge by the number of people who came up to shake his hand as we walked through the Boston Convention Centre on the way to the restaurant, Dickinson’s appointment has been a popular choice among US IP practitioners. Of course, his heavy-hitting past as the Director of the USPTO, the co-chair of the IP practice at Howrey and as the chief IP counsel at GE, sits perfectly with the profile of the AIPLA membership, which is drawn from industry, government and private practice.

Given he is only a week into the job, it was too early for Dickinson to start talking in any great detail about policy. But it is clear he is very excited about the challenges he has in front of him. He observed that with political leaders in the US and elsewhere focusing on the subject, IP as an issue has never been more high-profile than it is now – that in itself makes the executive director position extremely attractive to someone with his background. Throw in the fact that we are probably embarking on a period that could bring major changes to the IP environment both in the US and internationally, and the role becomes compelling. Dickinson’s primary task, he explained, is to ensure that the 17,000-member AIPLA is at the centre of all the major debates, that its voice is heard and that it is influential. On the US front he identified the Patent Reform Act, which is stalled, but which he expects to make a reappearance following the presidential and Congressional elections, as a vital issue; while he is also focused on current attempts to beef-up the anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy regimes.

As you would expect, I asked him about suggestions that he might be appointed Director of the USPTO should Barak Obama come out on top in the November presidential election, but he played a very straight bat on that. He told me that he is completely focused on the AIPLA, that he has no idea what will happen and that there are a number of strong candidates for the post, whoever occupies the White House. Something that those who believe he is a shoe-in for the role if the Democrat candidate prevails might want to bear in mind, however, is that while Dickinson is now an active Obama supporter, he backed Hillary Clinton until she dropped out of the race.

Having followed Dickinson’s career since he was Director of the USPTO during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I don’t think the AIPLA could have picked someone better suited to the executive director’s role. He knows how politics works, he understands how IP works - both nationally and internationally - he knows just about all the movers and shakers that matter, and he is a natural consensus builder with a finely honed sense of what will run and what will not. Of course, these are all attributes a good leader of the USPTO needs to possess as well; so until a permanent successor to Jon Dudas is appointed, Dickinson is bound to be linked with the job. In fact, given that John McCain has said on many occasions that he would want the best people in his administration regardless of party allegiance, what price Dickinson being part of a Republican-led government? Maybe I should have asked him that!