Bruce A. Lehman, assistant secretary of commerce and commissioner of patents and trademarks, has announced that he intends to leave the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by year's end. Lehman, who has headed the Commerce Department's Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) since 1993, made history as one of President Clinton's two early openly gay high level appointees.
During his six-year tenure with the PTO, Lehman has become an internationally recognized leader in the intellectual property arena. He chaired the Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights of the Clinton administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force. After receiving input from a broad spectrum of interested parties on the issue at public hearings held around the country, the working group issued a comprehensive white paper, the "Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure" in September, 1995. Among the recommendations in the white paper were proposals to fine-tune copyright law, both at home and abroad, to extend protection to the digital environment, and the convening of a Conference on Fair Use to discuss educational fair use issues in cyberspace.
In December 1996, Lehman headed the U.S. delegation that successfully negotiated two new copyright treaties setting important new international standards for protection of copyrighted works, musical performances and sound recordings in the digital age. Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate ratified these treaties which have been signed by 51 nations, giving a big boost to the growth potential of electronic commerce globally.
Lehman also participated in the successful negotiation of the Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994. The TRIPs Agreement sets intellectual property protection and enforcement standards for the more than 100 countries that are members of the World Trade Organization. In 1994, Commissioner Lehman participated in a diplomatic conference that concluded the Trademark Law Treaty, which harmonizes trademark procedural requirements among the 35 countries signing the treaty. The U.S. Senate ratified this treaty earlier this month. He was also a key figure in negotiating important intellectual property protections in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In July 1996 Lehman hosted the Intellectual Property Conference of the Americas. These historic sessions brought together almost 500 public and private sector participants from throughout the Western Hemisphere to explore possible cooperative efforts to improve the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the hemisphere. He was also instrumental in concluding the negotiations which led to improving patent protection for American inventors and businesses in Japan.
Under Lehman's leadership, the PTO has improved in every aspect of its operations, from the diversity of its workforce to its effectiveness as a major force in a competitive global economy. Today nearly 54 percent of PTO's employees are minorities in a federal government where only about 30 percent of the employees are non-white. When Lehman came to the PTO in 1993, only 45 percent of the agency's GS-5 and above employees were minority. Nearly 65 percent of PTO's employees have a bachelor's degree or higher, giving the agency a workforce with a level of education far surpassing the federal workforce as a whole.
Lehman has invested heavily in the agency's employees. He opened PTO University, a unique institution offering employees a free university-based curriculum synchronized to PTO's career opportunities. He established a program to give scientifically trained patent examiners the opportunity to get legal training and a master of law degree from Washington-area schools. He also opened the PTO Health Club, offering staff an opportunity to get beneficial exercise at a reasonable cost.
Lehman's efforts in streamlining the PTO and making it more responsive and customer-focused have earned the recognition of Vice President Gore's National Performance Review as a success story for government reinvention, and the agency has been designated a High Impact Agency.
Included among Lehman's many efforts to raise public awareness of the importance of intellectual property across the broad spectrum of American life is providing free Internet access to the wealth of knowledge contained in patents and trademarks. In an effort to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, Lehman had the full text and images of over 1,500 HIV/AIDS-related patents made available on line. This was soon followed by searchable bibliographic information on 20 years of patents. In August of this year searchable text of over 1 million registered and pending trademarks became available on the PTO home page. In November, searchable text of 2 million patents dating back to 1976 will be accessible for free on the Internet.
Lehman also held a series of public hearings around the country early in his tenure that provided patent and trademark practitioners a platform from which they could offer the Clinton administration their suggestions on intellectual property policy. In response to customer feedback from those meetings, the PTO developed new guidelines for biotechnology patents and established partnership libraries in Sunnyvale, Calif. and Detroit, which offer public access to a broad range of PTO information and services. A third partnership library will be opening in Houston next month.
Lehman's efforts to further extend the agency's reach to the public include the 1995 opening of the Patent and Trademark Museum, the opening of a new National Inventors' Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, and the initiation of the annual Inventors' Expo at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
In the fall of 1997 President Clinton named Bruce Lehman acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities-the federal agency which fosters and recognizes the work of America's artistic and creative community. He concurrently served in this position while running the PTO. In 1997 the National Journal named Bruce Lehman among the 100 most influential men and women in Washington. The National Law Journal named Lehman "Lawyer of the Year" in 1994, noting that he "has brought his job-and U.S. intellectual property policy-to an unprecedented level of importance."