In 2009, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) found itself in a crisis. In the latter part of the year, IBM assistant general counsel David Kappos took charge of the agency, which was faced with lengthening patent review timelines and a tough fiscal situation. As he explained in his remarks in the USPTO’s Performance and Accountability Report that year, the agency was forced to work with “an outdated financial model.” The economic downturn had resulted in fewer patent filings, forcing the agency to “freeze hiring, curtail mission critical programs, and cut back in key efforts relating to the Agency’s mission,” he explained in the remarks.
Since taking charge, the agency’s finances have improved but, perhaps more importantly, Kappos pushed forward bold patent reform efforts and made other improvements to improve the speed with which patents are granted. Kappos has announced that he will step down from his role in January 2013.
While in the office, Kappos has implemented an ongoing push to accelerate both the speed and quality of patent processing. As medical device patent attorney David Dykeman of international law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP explains, “Director Kappos was a strong proponent of patent reform and an advocate for reduced pendency times of patent applications. Under his leadership, the USPTO made progress on the large backlog of patent applications waiting for examination. He will be a hard act to follow.”
In September 2011, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act was signed into law, marking the most significant update to U.S. patent law in decades. "The next Commissioner of the USPTO will be tasked with implementing the significant America Invents Act change from ‘first to invent’ to ‘first to file’ for patent applications that is slated to take effect in March 2013 and with integrating the USPTO's new satellite patent offices in Detroit, Silicon Valley, Denver, and Dallas,” Dykeman says. “Hopefully, the next Commissioner will be as mindful of industry's need for thorough but fast examination of patent applications.” The regional offices will be staffed with roughly 120 patent examiners apiece and be supplemented with a number of administrative patent judges. In addition, Kappos also has announced a multi-year strategy to overhaul USPTO's IT infrastructure, upgrading it with cloud computing technology.