Philip Johnson Probable Candidate for USPTO Head

The Obama administration might just nominate Philip Johnson, head of the intellectual property division at Johnson & Johnson as the new man to head the US Patent and Trademarks Office. This is almost a 180 degree turn for the current administration which was rooting for patent litigation reforms in Congress just a few months back.

Johnson, who has been an ardent opponent of patent reforms for years and was especially vocal in the current round of demand for reforms, is a big shock and a letdown for the tech sector which believes that his nomination may end their dreams of seeing better days in the patent litigation world.

Just like almost every other federal department, the USPTO will be led by an attorney.

Just like almost every other federal department, the USPTO will be led by an attorney.

Johnson is an Anticipated Nomination

According to Hal Wegner, a patent attorney who also authors a newsletter about patent law, Johnson was an ‘anticipated nomination’. Citing reliable sources Wegner said that there had been a positive response among industry insiders when Johnson’s name came up for nomination. However, for the tech sector in America, which has been equally vociferous about the need for changes in the current patent law, the nomination could very well be the final blow. Tech companies and their patent attorneys believe the choice to make Johnson head is as bad a decision as can be.

What do you expect from the White House though? This is actually quite consistent when it comes to the White House making decisions that only hurt America.

Johnson’s history of blocking and impeding patent reform goes back to 2006 when he vehemently opposed the changes to patent damages law. In the recent failed reforms movement, Johnson was vociferous in his opposition of the Innovation Act which was hailed as a masterstroke by patent attorneys and by reformers in the industry. Johnson had even submitted a detailed statement stating his issues with the Act to the Senate Judiciary in December openly opposing the bill and citing issues with even the smallest parts of the bill that nobody else found controversial.

For instance Johnson opposed the heightened pleading requirements that were included in the Act, and the transparency requirements that were put in place to deter trolls from suing over patents that they did not own. His mother company Johnson & Johnson was one of the first companies to sign the main opposition letter that threatened to stop the Act from passing onto law. The company, along with other pharma giants, were the main opposition leaders behind the death of the bill and Philip Johnson was their most vocal representative.

Johnson’s History Intimidates Tech Sector

It is no doubt that Johnson has the chops for being the head of the USPTO. He has been a patent lawyer and IP attorney at Johnson & Johnson since 2009, and was their top counsel. Before that he worked at the law firm Woodcock Washburn for a period of 19 years and was made partner at the firm.

Patent trolls have never been happier.

Patent trolls have never been happier.

The White House Rewards another Attorney

Johnson was also the head of the 21C or Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform which was made of pharma, chemical, and manufacturing companies. However the tech sector is wary of him due to his reputation as a reform killer. Only time will tell how Johnson’s recruitment to the top post affects the tech industry and patent litigation in the US in the coming years.

Earlier in June 2012, David Kappos, US Patent and Trademark Office Director, with the implementation of the America Invents Act, industries highly reliant on intellectual property, such as IT, can have their patient applications reviews expedited and conducted by better trained examiners. The patent office set up Track One, a process where applicants can expedite their pending patent review applications for a higher fee.

Seven provisions of the reform law were implemented, followed by nine more. A year later in October 2013, the patent reform legislation that gained momentum on Capitol Hill divided the tech industry. Tech giants down the line such as Google and Amazon lobbied for a review process for patent infringement to software. However, some of the oldest tech firms such as Microsoft deemed the move unnecessary.

Most of the leading Democrats in America are lawyers, this includes Obama, Harry Reid, and Hillary Clinton. It should not surprise anyone that they support another attorney to lead an institution that demands skills that most attorneys do not have and a background they do not share.