Joff Wild

It’s now nearly a fortnight since David Kappos took everyone by surprise and announced that he is to stand down as the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office in January. And although the former head of IP at IBM has won almost universal praise for the job he has done at the office, that is tinged by shock and some anger at the way in which news of his departure emerged, as well as concern as to what consequences it may have.

Sources have told me that Kappos kept his decision very much to himself, sharing the news with almost nobody before it was made public: senior figures in Congress, as well as prominent members of the US IP bar, were given no inkling that he was about to stand down and only found out when it was announced. Even senior figures at the USPTO itself, including Chief of Staff Peter Pappas, with whom Kappos has worked extremely closely for the last three years, were given almost no advanced notice of the news.

So, while there is an understanding that Kappos may want to step down to, say, move back into the corporate world and/or to spend more time with his family after having put heart and soul into turning the USPTO around since he became Director in August 2009, there is a feeling that he might have handled things better. Unless, that is, Kappos was essentially forced out of the job. Some have speculated that the forthright speech on software patents that he made just days before he stood down may have been a cry from the heart indicating policy differences on the issue inside the Obama administration – though this is not a widespread view, I hasten to add.

As for the consequences of his resignation, there are worries that the efforts towards patent harmonisation which Kappos has spearheaded during his time at the office may now fall by the wayside. This is not just a concern in the US, but elsewhere in the world too – especially as SIPO commissioner Tian Lipu is also expected to leave his post some time in the new year.

With an in-depth knowledge of international IP issues gained during his time at IBM, Kappos was perfectly placed to drive efforts to bring various patent systems closer together – both in terms of work-sharing, but also with regards to substantive law. His successor (heavily tipped to be a woman, with several names – including current deputy director Teresa Stanek Rea and recently appointed head of the Silicon Valley satellite office Michelle Lee – mentioned) will have a tough task to keep talks on track. One thing is for sure, David Kappos will be a tough act to follow.