Posted on 17/02/2009 by
The changing of the guard at the White House may have brought with it a new Presidential attitude to intellectual property rights in the United States.
At the end of the Bush administration’s term a number of officials resigned from roles related to IP, leaving incoming President Barack Obama to select new appointees. One keenly anticipated appointment is that of the new Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, who will also be the Director of the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO). The USPTO is the organisation responsible for examining and granting patents and trade marks in the United States. The USPTO Director plays an influential role in overall IP policy, as well as overseeing rules on how the office deals with patents and patent applications.
IBM Vice President David Kappos is a contender for the job. However, many stakeholders, particularly those from the Biotechnology sector, fear that his appointment could lead to a weakening of the patent system. In the past Kappos has argued in favour of proposed legislation which would have made it easer to challenge the validity of granted patents, and reduced the damages payable by patent infringers. Biotech lobbyists argue that such a move would make it harder to protect new discoveries, which would in turn stifle investment in medical and pharmaceutical research.
Also raising eyebrows is the appointment of Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy to prepare a paper on the viability of government departments using “open source” rather than proprietary software. McNealy has long been an open source software advocate, and his role in the review has led some commentators to question the new administration’s position on Intellectual Property rights. With New Zealand’s drive towards a knowledge lead economy, the availability of robust intellectual property protection in key markets like the US is essential if we are to attract investment in our research based companies, and prevent our ideas from being stolen by huge overseas competitors with litigation budgets which exceed the total annual turnover of the average New Zealand company.
As with so many other issues, we can only wait and see what the next four years hold in store for participants in the US Intellectual Property system.