Q. Todd Dickinson


Q. Todd Dickinson was born December 21, 1952, in Philadelphia. He received a bachelor’s in chemistry from Allegheny College and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Before moving to Washington, D.C., he had more than 20 years of intellectual property law experience with corporations and law firms. For five years he served as chief intellectual property counsel for Sun Company, Inc. He had a long history of public service, having served as chair of the San Francisco Parking Authority and the Philadelphia Bureau of Administrative Adjudication.

In June 1998 President Bill Clinton appointed Dickinson deputy commissioner of patents and trademarks. At the time the commissioner and deputy posts were both presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation. When Commissioner Lehman left office in December 1998, Dickinson served more than 10 months as acting commissioner. He took the oath of office as commissioner on November 17, 1999, after nomination by President Clinton and confirmation by the Senate. His full title then was Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks.

Soon after Dickinson became commissioner, Congress passed the landmark American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA). Among other things the AIPA changed Dickinson’s title to Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The act required the director to be “a person who has a professional background and experience in patent or trademark law.” Other AIPA provisions:

  • Required publication of most patent applications 18 months after filing, a practice widely followed in other countries.

  • Again amended the length of a patent term, which had been changed in 1995 to have patents expire 20 years after filing instead of 17 years after grant. The AIPA allowed for patent term adjustments, which extended the expiration date beyond 20 years after filing in some cases to compensate for processing delays at the USPTO.

  • Established an inter partes reexamination procedure that allowed patent challengers and owners to participate in the office’s reexamination. The existing ex parte reexamination proceedings continued.

  • Established a prior user defense against patent infringement for inventors of business methods who commercialized the invention early.

  • Established a Trademark Public Advisory Committee and a Patent Public Advisory Committee

 The AIPA was said to be the most important patent legislation since the Patent Acts of 1836 and 1952. It required major implementation efforts by the USPTO.

Dickinson promoted increased use of information technology. In 1999 the office launched the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system to provide applicants with up-to-date information on the status of applications. In 2000 the office launched an electronic patent application filing system. It expanded its online database to include every patent granted, a total of more than 6.5 million patents.

During Dickinson’s tenure the United States ratified the Trademark Registration Treaty, designed to harmonize and simplify trademark filing and maintenance procedures. Also during that period the office granted U.S. patent number 6,000,000.

In 1999 the Supreme Court decided a case bearing Dickinson’s name, Dickinson v. Zurko. The court, agreeing with the USPTO, held that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit must review USPTO factual determinations only for whether determinations were supported by “substantial evidence.” The substantial evidence standard of review was required by the Administrative Procedure Act. 

In another major Supreme Court case that year, Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank, the court decided that an act of Congress taking away the State of Florida’s sovereign immunity from suit under the Patent and Plant Variety Protection Remedy Clarification Act was unconstitutional.

Dickinson resigned as director on January 20, 2001, following the election of President George W. Bush, and returned to the private sector. He was a partner in a law firm and then chief intellectual property counsel for General Electric Co. He later served for seven years as executive director of a large intellectual property law professional association and returned to private law practice.



Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1999-2001).

USPTO, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks (1999).

USPTO, Annual Performance and Accountability Reports (2000-02).