Sarah Harris as Next USPTO General Counsel

By Dennis Crouch

According to Pam MacLean at Reuters, Sarah Harris has now been tapped by USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee as the next USPTO General Counsel. Bernie Knight left the position in August of 2013 for private practice and Will Covey has been acting GC. Covey is expected to now return to his role as Director of the Office of Enrollment and Discipline.


Harris is most recently the Deputy General Counsel for AOL in charge of Intellectual Property and has spent time in-house at several high-tech companies.

General Counsel is seen as the principal legal advisor to the USPTO Director and generally supervises court representation for the agency. Although the role does deal with substantive IP issues, it delves deeply into all sorts of additional issues involving government contracts, employment issues, etc.

From the article:

“The disappointing aspect of this news is that we’re building up a leadership structure in the USPTO without actually having an appointed director in charge,” said Dennis Crouch, a patent attorney and author of the Patently O blog, which covers U.S. patent law issues.

Crouch praised the Harris appointment, saying, “she will bring strong pragmatic leadership in that role.”

Ordinarily, a director would first be named and then given some authority to build his or her team. That was the approach that David Kappos was able to use to great success. It may be more difficult to now find a USPTO leader who fits easily into this already-forming team of supporting cast members.

12 thoughts on “Sarah Harris as Next USPTO General Counsel

  1. Note that this position was competed and Michelle Lee circumvented the selection process to put a Silicon Valley crony in the job. The comment that the General Counsel is a career position is correct – hard to justify putting someone in with zero years of government service and no idea how government works much less someone with no experience within the patent office.

  2. Nah nah nah, fixed:

    “I hope he says something, as he will then be responding to a post about him in an article quoting SOMEONE QUOTING him that he posted on his blog.”

  3. At least this means the administration hasn’t forgotten about the PTO.

    It is consistent with my speculation that the administration has someone in mind for director but isn’t ready to deal with Senate confirmation yet. I’m guessing that the lame duck post-election Senate may take up a summer nominee in November. It’ll probably be Obama’s last chance to get a whole raft of appointees through a Senate of his own party.

    1. I should have noted that the GC position has historically been a “career” slot rather than “political.” In the past, that meant that the USPTO had much more internal power in filling the position. My understanding here is that the Dep. Dir. Lee (in her capacity as de facto PTO Director) was able to make this hire without substantial direct control from the White House.

  4. anon, I will throw you a bone. Check out a novel called The Windup Girl, 2009. Hugo award winner. No. 3 for the 21st Century by another list. One of the best of 2009 by Time.

    Two centuries hence, gene manipulation has taken over. All naturally occurring plants have been replaced by plants that will not reproduce — thus all food production is in the hands of several big corporations. But there have been plagues caused by gene hack virus and the like that have decimated the world’s populations. Virtually everyone is hungry all the time.

    Many who have read this book report their lives being changed. They are now sensitive to the patenting of genetically modified plants and animals as never before.

    I am reading it now.

    link to

    1. In another comment, the current crisis in the Crimea illustrates that the lessons of WWII are not shared universally. Britain and her allies, the US being one, were upholding the rule of law and sought to establish the principle that international disputes cannot be settled by force. We established the UN post WWII to embody this principle.

      Russia however was simply attacked by Germany and was fighting as a matter of right, not to uphold a principle. At the end of the war, it simply annexed whole swaths of conquered territory as a matter of right given to every conqueror.

      It seem clear that Russia does not share the worldview held by both Britain and the US.

  5. One more piece of circumstantial evidence that the post of “director” has been downgraded.

    1. I hope he says something, as he will then be responding to a post about him in an article quoting him that he posted on his blog.

      Soooo meta.

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