James E. Rogan was born August 21, 1957, in the Mission District of San Francisco. He described the early hardships of his life in his 2004 book Rough Edges – My Unlikely Road from Welfare to Washington.
He was born to a single mother, a cocktail waitress who was later convicted of welfare fraud. He was raised by an extended family but became a political junkie at the age of nine and sought advice from many famous people. He once received help with his school homework through mail correspondence with former President Harry Truman. At a political convention he met the then-governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who advised him to study law.
Rogan received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA, where he was a member of the UCLA Law Review. He began his legal career with a law firm and became a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, prosecuting street gangs. He was appointed to be a judge on a state court at the age of 33 and was elected to the California State Assembly in 1994, where his colleagues elected him majority leader in his first term.
In 1996 he was elected to the first of two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served on the House Judiciary Committee and introduced or co-sponsored several intellectual-property-related bills. He was one of the House managers of the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, who had told him to study law.
After Rogan failed to win reelection to the House for a third term, President George W. Bush appointed him under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO. He entered service on December 10, 2001. By the Rogan era, the USPTO had grown to more than 7,000 employees and a budget of $1.5 billion.
On the day he arrived at the USPTO, the Supreme Court decided an important case that affected the office’s work, J.E.M. AG Supply Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. The court ruled that utility patents, sometimes called invention patents, could be granted for living plants despite the separate protection available under the Plant Patent Act of 1930 and the Plant Variety Protection Act.
In 2002 Rogan unveiled the USPTO’s “21st Century Strategic Plan,” which was consistent with the priorities he had listed at his Senate confirmation hearing: working to improve the quality of patents granted and trademarks registered and minimizing processing times. Rogan told Congress the USPTO had to have funding to do the job. Beginning in 1992 a significant amount of fees paid by patent and trademark applicants and owners had been diverted to unrelated government programs nearly every year.
Rogan held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2003 to open the first of five new inter-connected office buildings in Alexandria, Virginia, that were to be the new USPTO headquarters. Planning for office space had been underway since 1989. The USPTO had occupied scattered buildings in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia, since 1967. The first new building in Alexandria was named the Remsen Building in honor of Henry Remsen Jr., the clerk of the patent board chaired by Thomas Jefferson from 1790 to 1793.
The move to the new buildings accelerated automation of patent and trademark examination, a major component of the 21st Century Strategic Plan. Many paper files were left behind in favor of electronic files when the USPTO moved.
Rogan resigned as director on January 9, 2004. He practiced law in Washington, D.C., and California and in 2006 became a judge on the Superior Court of California in Orange County, a position he still holds. He has served as an adjunct professor of criminal law and procedure at law schools in Southern California. In 2011 he published his second memoir, on the Clinton impeachment proceedings, and in 2014 his third memoir, with stories from his boyhood about celebrities and politicians he met in San Francisco.
Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (2001-05).
James E. Rogan, Rough Edges – My Unlikely Road From Welfare to Washington (2004).
USPTO, Annual Performance and Accountability Reports (2001-05).