The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) mourns the loss of The Honorable Q. Todd Dickinson, former Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. Todd was immensely knowledgeable and influential in the intellectual property community. He was a warm person and a great friend to many.
Todd’s career spanned the IP landscape, having worked in law firms, corporations, trade groups, and government. After serving as Chief IP Counsel at Sun, Todd was appointed by President Clinton in 1998 to be Deputy Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks at the USPTO. With the passage of the American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA) in 1999, Todd became the first person to hold the modern-era title of Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the USPTO.
Todd was at the forefront of modernizing the USPTO to make it more user friendly. Under his leadership, the agency started accepting electronic filings and launched the now popular Patent Application Information Retrieval system (PAIR), which makes most patent filings available to the public electronically. He also was central in efforts to harmonize aspects of US and international patent law.
As Director, he was beloved by USPTO staff and lauded by outside stakeholders. One examiner said that Todd made him proud to serve as an examiner at the USPTO, and another remembered his mantra that the USPTO is the “patent office, not the rejection office.” Former USPTO Solicitor John Whealan said that everyone’s high regard for Todd as Director was a central reason that the USPTO was given more autonomy under his leadership.
After retiring from the USPTO in 2001, Todd returned to private practice—again serving as both in-house and outside counsel. He was co-chair of Howrey’s IP practice, then Vice President and Chief IP counsel for GE. From 2008 to 2015, Todd served as Executive Director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA). Most recently, Todd was senior partner at the Polsinelli law firm.
On “the side”—in an effort that would be more than full time for almost anyone else—Todd continued to improve our nation’s intellectual property ecosystem. He attended and spoke often at IP law conferences around the country. I remember fondly being on panels with him, where his deep knowledge and cutting humor mingled perfectly with his easy-going style. Most recently, he co-taught intellectual property classes at George Washington University—including a class just this semester.
I began working with Todd many years ago when I was in private practice, but that work relationship grew over time, particularly when I became USPTO Director. Todd was a mentor, and he was a friend.
I, the USPTO, and the entire IP community will sorely miss Q. Todd Dickinson. He is survived by his husband Robert Atkins and his brother John Dickinson, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.
May Todd’s memory be an inspiration to all.