Bruce A. Lehman


Bruce A. Lehman was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on September 19, 1945. He received history and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and served as legal counsel to the Wisconsin state legislature before entering military service during the Vietnam War. He was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  

Afterward he worked at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He joined the staff of the House Judiciary Committee when it was considering a recommendation to impeach President Richard Nixon. In 1978 he was appointed chief counsel of the Judiciary subcommittee with jurisdiction over intellectual property issues. He then spent 10 years in private law practice in Washington, where he was active in civic affairs.

President Bill Clinton appointed Lehman assistant secretary of commerce and commissioner of patents and trademarks, and he entered service on August 11, 1993. He was the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In 1994 Congress passed legislation to implement the historic GATT/TRIPS (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement. Lehman’s deputy earlier had served as the chief U.S. TRIPS negotiator. The United States led the industrialized countries that supported TRIPS. It was the first international agreement to require member countries to comply with minimum standards for protection afforded by their patent, trademark, and copyright laws. 

Under TRIPS, which applied to more than 100 countries in the World Trade Organization, patents had to be available and enforceable without discrimination as to the place of invention, the field of technology, or whether products were imported or produced locally. TRIPS required the United States to change the term of patents to expire 20 years after filing, from the term of 17 years after grant that had existed in the United States since 1861.

By 1995 the office had 5,000 employees. The office registered its two millionth trademark in 1996 and granted plant patent number 10,000 in 1997. In 1997 the USPTO trademark operation launched a work-at-home pilot program for 18 examining attorneys.

Lehman continued the emphasis on use of information technology in the office’s work. The office made more than 20 years of searchable patent bibliographic text available online by 1995. By 1997 employees could communicate with members of the public by email. In 1998 the office was preparing to add 20 million images to the searchable text of two million patents that dated back to 1976.

Lehman supported expansion of public education activities with the establishment of the USPTO’s Patent and Trademark Museum and cooperation with the National Inventors Hall of Fame on a public museum in Akron, Ohio. The office also co-sponsored an annual Inventors Expo at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida.

Lehman was deeply involved in copyright policy. In December 1996 he led the U.S. delegation that negotiated two copyright treaties setting standards for protection of copyrighted works, musical performances, and sound recordings in the digital age. He was an architect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted in 1998, which contained five titles of Copyright Act amendments.

During his tenure the Supreme Court decided several notable intellectual property cases. Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chemical Co. updated the patent doctrine of equivalents. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc. held that the interpretation of patent claims is a matter of law within the province of judges, not juries. Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co. concluded that sometimes a color alone will meet the trademark requirements, provided that it had acquired secondary meaning in the market.

Lehman resigned on December 31, 1998. In 1999 he founded a Washington think tank and development organization designed to help nations understand the commercial importance of intellectual property rights. He continued to speak and write widely on intellectual property issues.



Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1993-98).

USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks (1993-99).