Donald J. Quigg was born April 28, 1916, in Kansas City, Missouri. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma and a law degree from the University of Missouri. After a brief period with a law firm he entered the U.S. Army during World War II and received the Silver Star Medal for valor in combat.
In 1946 he joined Phillips Petroleum Co. in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, as a staff patent attorney and studied chemistry at night. In an era when employees often stayed with a company for an entire career, Quigg was a Phillips patent attorney for 35 years and was named an inventor in 10 Phillips patents.
He was chief patent counsel for his last 10 years at Phillips. Although Quigg worked at Phillips headquarters in Oklahoma, he was responsible for an office the company maintained in Washington, D.C., to train patent attorneys. The office monitored patent legislation and regulations for Phillips, giving Quigg familiarity with patent policy issues in Washington.
In 1981 he retired and took the post of deputy commissioner of patents and trademarks. After four years as deputy President Ronald Reagan appointed him assistant secretary of commerce and commissioner of patents and trademarks. He took office on October 13, 1985, at age 69.
Quigg supported teaching school children about intellectual property rights and creative thinking skills. The USPTO co-sponsored the first of several conferences for teachers soon after Quigg started. In 1987 he told the New York Times, "The school program in 20 years will have a tremendous effect – it is moving across the country like a prairie fire.”
In 1986 the office installed workstations in a patent examining group to test electronic searching of the full text of U.S. patents granted since 1975. By then a million patents had been printed using the electronic database the office had been building since 1970. Also that year use of the automated trademark system became mandatory for the office’s trademark examining attorneys when they searched word marks.
In 1987 the USPTO announced it would consider applications for patents on new types of animals produced by human intervention. In 1988 the office issued the first animal patent, which covered a genetically altered mouse designed to detect cancer-causing substances. It was titled, “Transgenic Non-Human Mammals.” The inventors were two scientists at Harvard University.
Also in 1987, Chapter II of the Patent Cooperation Treaty entered into force, allowing U.S. patent applicants to request an international preliminary examination. At a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization the same year, the office offered to recommend to Congress and industry that the United States change to a “first-to-file” system if countries could agree on a balanced package of patent changes.
In 1989 the office met its goal of reducing the average time it took to process a patent application to 18 months, thanks to the hiring of a large number of additional examiners.
In 1988 Congress enacted the landmark Trademark Law Revision Act that allowed applicants to file for trademark registration based on their intent to use a mark in commerce. Until then U.S. citizens could file applications only after the mark had actually been used. The new law also changed the time period before a trademark registration had to be renewed from 20 years to 10 years. The office maintained its goal of disposing of trademark applications within an average of 13 months.
Quigg resigned as commissioner on October 31, 1989. He entered private law practice in Washington, co-founding a law firm and later joining a larger firm. He died on September 21, 2014, at age 98, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1985-89).
Patent Chief: Donald J. Quigg; Guiding a Low Profile Agency Through a High-Tech Storm, New York Times, May 31, 1987.
USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks (1985-89).
USPTO, The Story of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1988).