The White House will tap a top pharmaceutical industry lawyer to be the next head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, according to Ars Technica. This is of particular interest because Philip Johnson, the head of intellectual property at Johnson & Johnson, is best known as a long-time opponent of reforming patent laws. This is an odd shift for the Obama Administration, who will nominate a man who has spent over a decade railing against any effort to change the way patents are submitted and approved. The move is seen by many who advocate for reforms to the system as a major setback.
The nomination was made public over the weekend, when Hal Wegner, a patent lawyer who authors an e-mail newsletter, said Johnson was the "anticipated nomination," citing "reliable sources."
Johnson is known in D.C. as an outspoken opponent of patent reform efforts. In the run-up to the recently failed effort to pass legislation to reform patent law, Johnson was particularly vocal. He was active as the head of the Coalition for 21C, 21st Century Patent Reform, a coalition of pharmaceutical, chemical, and manufacturing concerns. Johnson has been chief patent counsel at Johnson & Johnson since 2000 and its top IP lawyer since 2009. Before working at J & J, Johnson was a partner at the law firm Woodcock Washburn for 19 years.
Large pharmaceutical companies have been the most vocal opponents of patent reform. The 2007 reform effort sputtered out because of big pharma opposition, and the sector managed to kill a similar effort this year.
Ars Technica has a detailed report on all of Johnson's efforts over the years to halt patent reform efforts in their tracks. How a man like this will fix the problems in the USPTO remains to be seen.
Source: Ars Technica