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David Kappos, Director of US Patent & Trademark Office: first UK address

By Ruth Grenville, on 5 April 2011

On 4 April, UCL’s Institute of Brand and Innovation Law hosted over 200 early risers for an all-star intellectual property panel and breakfast discussion. The event, organised by the Directors Roundtable Institute with the co-operation of AIPPI UK (the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property), was billed as ‘A Dialogue with David Kappos, Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office’. It was Mr Kappos’s first UK public address. He was introduced by the Rt Hon Sir Robin Jacob, holder of the new Sir Hugh Laddie Chair of Intellectual Property at UCL Laws, who also joined in the debate.

Sir Robin Jacob (left) with David Kappos

Sir Robin Jacob of UCL Laws (left) with David Kappos, Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office

David Kappos outlined his main topic for discussion, the harmonisation of international patent law, a topic that was continued by fellow speakers Richard Vary, Director of European Litigation for Nokia, and Avril Martindale, Partner at law firm Freshfields.

Global harmonisation of patents, Mr Kappos noted, would be difficult with diverse legal traditions and languages. However, he felt it a goal worth pursuing. The US has recently started the ball rolling by making domestic improvements to its patent laws. Accordingly, key issues with the US system are in the process of being remedied. Mr Kappos noted that the passage of the new America Invents Act (a.k.a. the Patent Reform Act 2011) was looking promising, with a signing expected in summer 2011.  Accordingly, he said, the US is now at the starting line for a global push towards harmonisation on patent matters.

Mr Kappos remarked that it was “bizarre” that intellectual property (IP) law is stuck using nineteenth-century models in an age of international transactions and an international marketplace. He explained that he was in Europe to discuss harmonisation as a global topic, with a view to enhancing global commerce rather than impeding it. The time for harmonisation, he said, is now.

Speakers Richard Vary and Avril Martindale agreed the need to co-operate. This theme was once more stressed by the Rt Hon Sir Robin Jacob, who noted that there were still many differences between the world’s main patent systems, but that the differences were slowly getting fewer. However, he felt a more global view was still needed, and that there might be things to learn from the US. He noted dryly that just because something is in US legislation does not necessarily mean it is wrong…

All in all, the take-home message was clear: harmonisation is on the agenda, and the US wants to make renewed moves on a global patent standard. Whether this will be enough to command reform on a global scale remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

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