Senators who have spent years pushing an overhaul of patent law today praised President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, suggesting that nominee David Kappos could help jumpstart the stalled legislation.
“You have eminent experience in this field,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told Kappos at his confirmation hearing. “I’m very proud of you for accepting this position.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he’s known Kappos for years and looked forward to working with him. “We need someone who can work with us on patent reform legislation,” said Leahy, who with Hatch is one of the two main Senate sponsors of the patent overhaul.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, passed out one version of an overhaul bill in April, but the Senate hasn’t vote on it. The House Judiciary Committee has held a hearing on the issue but no vote this year. The lack of action follows a pledge among lawmakers in March to move the legislation along after years of debate.
Sponsors want to convert the nation’s patent system into a “first-to-file” system for determining inventors’ rights, rather than requiring patent examiners to determine who came up with an innovation first. Drafts of the legislation would also affect enforcement and jurisdictional issues — including the thorny question of how to address “inequitable conduct” by a patent holder.
Kappos, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said little today about the position the Patent and Trademark Office should take on legislation. Under questioning from Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Kappos said his decisions would not be unduly influenced by his recent work as vice president and assistant general counsel for IBM Corp. His priority would be “doing the right thing for the American people,” Kappos said.
Specter, employing apparent sarcasm, replied to Kappos: “Doing that will satisfy everybody.”
Kappos laid out several major priorities for the office, including an improvement in employee morale and changes in the agency’s funding model, much of which comes from fees that can be diverted to other purposes.