PTO deputy director to leave agency next month

Announcement comes as lawmakers fight to break an impasse on legislation to overhaul the patent system.

After just over a year on the job, Patent and Trademark Office Deputy Director Margaret Peterlin will resign in August, even as policy makers are fighting long odds to break an impasse on legislation to overhaul the patent system.

Peterlin was sworn in in April after serving as a senior aide for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and former House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, and was a key voice for the Bush administration as members of Congress worked on patent reform.

The legislation was championed by much of the high-tech sector and fought by the pharmaceutical industry and those whose business models rely on patent licenses. It passed the House but stalled in the Senate after talks broke down between Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ranking Member Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

During the months-long debate, Peterlin and other PTO officials urged members to craft a bill that was responsive to the needs of all stakeholders and to uphold strong "applicant quality submission" language, which they said would reduce poor quality and imprecise patent applications.

The patent system needs to be modernized because the value and economic impact of IP is growing, Peterlin said Monday.

Congress was engaged in "a worthwhile task even if it's a difficult task" and she said she hoped that work will continue next year.

"People were engaging directly on the text and it had moved away from a sheer vote-count exercise," she said. "I think the conversation will pick up at that very specific, informed level."

Peterlin's tenure was marred by a lawsuit claiming that someone holding her office is statutorily required to have "a professional background and experience in patent or trademark law."

Intellectual property activist Greg Aharonian argued Peterlin had no known experience relevant to her post, never "interacted" with a patent examiner, and never prepared a legal opinion regarding patent or trademark validity. A federal judge threw out the case in December.

"I don't think it's a centerpiece of my time here and I never took it personally," Peterlin said. The suit "caused a lot of excitement," which led to an outpouring of support from PTO colleagues, lawmakers and others, she said.

At the time, PTO Director Jon Dudas came to her defense, saying she was well qualified. Upon hearing of her departure, he issued a statement saying Peterlin was instrumental in the agency's achievements in the past year.

Stephen Pinkos, who preceded Peterlin as the PTO's second in command, offered praise, particularly for her work on patent legislation. "She knows how the Hill works and helped present a clear, consistent position that influenced the debate," he said Monday.

Pinkos added that the lawsuit was "bogus" and amounted to a "cheap shot at Jon [Dudas]" by those who disagree with how the agency is run.

House Judiciary Committee deputy staff director Ted Kalo, who worked with Peterlin on the patent bill, characterized her as "someone who is far more interested in the arcane details of policy than of the political calculations that go on around here."

He, too, called the lawsuit "ludicrous [and] insulting."

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida said Peterlin is "constantly thinking two steps ahead of the game... mixing foresight with a rare blend of passion and principle. ... She's one of those folks you always want on your team."

Peterlin plans to remain in Washington and work in the private sector. "The best job would be a lot like the job I have right now," she said.