David J. Kappos


David J. Kappos was born in 1961 in Palos Verdes, California. He was educated at the University of California, Davis, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical and computer engineering, and the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a Doctorate of Jurisprudence.  

Kappos spent more than 25 years at IBM. As counsel in the area of global intellectual property (IP) protection, he oversaw the protection of the firm’s IP in the Asia-Pacific region. Then, in 2003, he became IBM’s chief IP lawyer. Attaining the rank of Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Intellectual Property Law, he managed IBM’s patent and trademark portfolios. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Kappos for the position of Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. The Senate confirmed Kappos’s appointment on August 13, 2009. As Director, Kappos prioritized the strategic navigation of a severe recession, the implementation of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), and the reduction of pendency intervals (the amount of time between an applicant's submitting an application and receiving a decision).  

In response to financial pressures resulting from the recession (2007-2009) and a decline in business activity for the agency, the USPTO froze hiring and scaled back programs where possible. The outlook brightened in 2011 when Congress passed the AIA, which Director Kappos helped to shape. He then set to work implementing the Act’s provisions, including the establishment of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and restarting expansions and initiatives that had been interrupted by the recession.  

Meanwhile, Director Kappos and the USPTO succeeded in reducing pendency by several months. The number of unexamined utility patent applications shrank, too, as the backlog fell from about 750,000 in 2009 to about 609,000 in 2013. In the same period, the Trademark organization exceeded its targets for action and final pendency. In pursuit of greater efficiency, Director Kappos pushed for the replacement of antiquated information technology, reengineering many of the systems and processes that kept patent and trademark applications moving.  

Under Director Kappos’s leadership, new offices and institutions arrived that proved to be lasting. The USPTO gained a Chief Economist and its first permanent satellite location, the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office in Detroit, Michigan.

Other major milestones under Director Kappos’s leadership include the issuance of patent 8 million and the attainment of fifth place for employee satisfaction among the 300-plus federal agency and agency subcomponents surveyed by the Partnership for Public Service in 2012. The USPTO had risen steadily in these rankings from 172nd place in 2009, just before Kappos assumed office, to first place, shortly after his departure.

Further reading 

David J. Kappos. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. Accessed June 15, 2021.  

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2009 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2009. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2010 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2010. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2011 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2011. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2012 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2012. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2013 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2013. 

The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 6-18-09. Press release. June 18, 2009.