On the Record with Russ Slifer


Russ Slifer is the former Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Slifer resigned from this position he held for nearly two years on Friday, January 20, 2017.

During his time at the Patent Office, I tried to get an interview with Slifer on a variety of occasions, but those efforts all went for naught. Upon his resignation, Silfer agreed to an interview, which took place via telephone on Monday, March 20, 2017. The entire 3-part interview transcript is available on IPWatchdog.com. What follows are the highlights.

Slifer on the mechnics and timing of resigning from a political appointment:

SLIFER: Each department in the Executive branch, let’s say the Department of Commerce has a White House liaison that interfaces between the political appointees that are under the Department of Commerce and the White House regarding employment issues. So when we’re approaching the end of an administration, they’re working with us on the transition out. They provided us a letter that came from the White House, let’s see, I think it was probably in December, maybe early December, that outlined that the President wanted all of our letters of resignation on file by a certain date and our intended date of departure. We were instructed that our resignation would be no later than noon on January 20th. So we basically got an instruction from the White House that they wanted everybody’s resignation letter and what it would say in it.

Slifer on what happened at the end of the Obama Administration with the confusion about whether USPTO Director Michelle Lee actually resigned:

SLIFER: I guess I can address it a little bit, although I’ve left the office, so anything that’s transpired since then I’m not privy to first-hand. Certainly when a political appointee files a letter of resignation, it’s up to both the current President and the incoming President to decide if they want that individual to resign or not. They can agree to not accept that letter of resignation and leave an individual in place to transition from one Administration to the next; however, without some kind of affirmative action, that letter of resignation is going to take effect. So I think from what you’ve seen, and the acknowledgement that Director Lee is still at the USPTO, that both the incoming Administration and the outgoing Administration agreed to withdraw, or not accept, the letter of resignation and allow her to stay on to run the agency.

Slifer on his ideas for improving inter partes review (IPR):

SLIFER:  I’ll give you one example of something that I’ve suggested in the past and that would be a petition to the Director for reconsideration of institution. And as you know, by statute, the Director is tasked with making the institution decision on an IPR, but that’s been delegated to the PTAB for obvious logistical reasons. There’s no way that the front office could read through all petitions and make a decision itself so it had to be delegated to the Board. But sometimes there are cases that probably should be reconsidered on whether institutions should have be made – and maybe it’s because the art that is relied on is the same or substantially the same as what was in prosecution. Or maybe there is a financial hardship of the patent owner, or the IPR will not resolve all of the outstanding validity issues that are pending in a district court. So there could be certain categories of reasons that you could basically an interlocutory appeal to the Director for reconsideration. I think that is one way to help address some of the potential abuses or hardships on the patent owner if there’s been several IPRs that have been instituted against a patent from different parties. Right now the system does not allow for reconsideration once a decision has been made. That’s just one example.

Slifer also elaborated on his IPR positions in an article titled How to Improve IPRs.

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