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October 1, 2016 Vol. 71 No. 17 Back to Bulletin Main Page

Shira Perlmutter, USPTO: Get to Know Your IP Attachés


Shira Perlmutter has worn hats ranging from law professor, author, and consultant at WIPO to the Associate Register for Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Copyright Office and Vice President and Associate General Counsel for IP Policy at Time Warner—to name a few. Today, in her role as Chief Policy Officer and Director for International Affairs at the USPTO, she serves as a policy advisor to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Michelle Lee.

As part of that role, Ms. Perlmutter is responsible for the administration of a network of 13 IP attachés based in ten countries who serve as the USPTO’s “eyes and ears on the ground,” says Ms. Perlmutter. Along with Dominic Keating, the Director of the IP Attaché Program, it is Ms. Perlmutter’s job to oversee the work of the attachés, monitor the need for expansion of the program, hire qualified candidates, and make sure IP stakeholders are aware that they can contact attachés for help. Ms. Perlmutter spoke with the INTA Bulletin to explain more about the program.

What is the role of the USPTO Office of Policy and International Affairs? 
In addition to the attaché program, OPIA has several diverse areas of responsibility. In addition to dedicated teams of subject matter experts in each type of IP, and a separate China team, we have the Office of Governmental Affairs, the Office of the Chief Economist, and our Global IP Academy.

OPIA handles issues related to policy in all areas of IP—that includes not only patents and trademarks, but also copyrights, trade secrets, and enforcement policy issues. I think of policy as looking at what the law should be, rather than interpreting and applying the law as it is. Often, this comes up in the context of legislation, litigation that raises policy issues, economic research and analysis, and other matters that arise in the government where we help to ensure that the IP perspective is taken into account.

Then, there is the international side of our work. That includes representing the United States at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), assisting the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in the negotiation of IP provisions of trade agreements, providing IP education and training, and engaging in bilateral discussions with other IP offices and governments around the world. In doing that, we of course work closely with our sister agencies like the U.S. State Department, USTR and other parts of the Department of Commerce, with the Copyright Office on copyright issues, and internally with the USPTO’s Patent and Trademark Operations, which implement a lot of the international agreements that we work on.

What’s a typical day like for you? 
I wish there was such a thing as a typical day. I do a fair amount of traveling, sometimes speaking at conferences, but also participating in international meetings, primarily at WIPO. Given the diversity of OPIA’s work, there are always ongoing meetings within the USPTO and with stakeholders, as well as significant management responsibilities. We also have a lot of meetings with other agencies. The U.S. government is very good at having coordinated policy positions that take into account input from all parts of the government. Other countries don’t always have that same level of coordination, and I think it makes U.S. government positions particularly strong, well-balanced, and thought-through. 

What is the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program, and what is an IP attaché? 
The IP attachés are IP experts based at embassies and missions around the world. Their job is to promote U.S. government policies on IP and to do their best to ensure high-quality IP systems in their host countries and regions, ultimately for the benefit of U.S. stakeholders. That entails a number of things. They work with their host governments and meet with government officials on a whole range of IP issues; they serve as our eyes and ears on the ground, reporting on developments in the region, communicating on our behalf in an informal and prompt manner; they organize and run outreach and education programs; and last, but not least, especially from the perspective of INTA members, they have an important role in assisting U.S. stakeholders in navigating the local IP systems. If a U.S. trademark owner is having a problem getting a registration, or handling litigation, they can talk to the attaché about how the local system works and—if it’s the kind of thing where it would help to talk to someone—the attaché can explain who would be the right person to contact.

Who are they?
The backgrounds of IP attachés are quite diverse. Several are attorneys who come from OPIA or elsewhere at the USPTO, but we have drawn people from a variety of backgrounds. We have had partners in law firms, law professors, one head of a nonprofit, and several from other agencies in the U.S. government, such as the USTR, the General Counsel’s Office of the Department of Commerce, and the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator’s Office at the White House.

When was the program created, and why? 
It goes back to the Uruguay Round negotiations that established the World Trade Organization (WTO). Our very first attaché was placed in Geneva, at the U.S. Mission to the WTO in 1993. The idea was to have someone with technical expertise in IP who would be on the ground and could help with negotiation of the TRIPS Agreement. The next attaché position wasn’t created for another ten years, and then was based in Beijing because of the growing importance of IP matters in China. The first attaché in Beijing was Mark Cohen, who is now Senior Counsel for China, here at the USPTO.

Because those initial forays seemed to be working very well, in 2006, we expanded the program and created attaché positions in Brazil, Russia, India, in Thailand covering Southeast Asia, and in Egypt covering the Middle East.

Over the past ten years, we have expanded quite a bit. Today, we are up to 13 attachés in ten countries. In addition, we’ve added one more attaché in Geneva, so now we have one representing us at WIPO and one at the WTO. We also have two more in China—one each in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. We have moved the Middle East position from Cairo to Kuwait City, just because of political developments in the region. We’ve created a position in Mexico City, and most recently, in the last year, we created one in Lima, Peru, and one in Brussels, covering the EU and EU Member States. Ultimately, we’re going to be moving the attaché position in Moscow to Kiev. Contact information for each attaché is available on the program’s homepage and is kept up to date.

How are you measuring the success of the program? 
On the one hand, we’re measuring it by the feedback we’re getting. We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from industry associations, individual companies, and other stakeholders. We’ve also had tremendously positive feedback from other government agencies. The attachés provide information, assistance, and input to all government agencies. User feedback is the primary means, but sometimes there are specific positive outcomes on particular matters as well. 

How are you deciding where to place attachés? 
That’s a relatively complex process. The overall question is, “What are the locations where there’s the greatest need?” from the perspective of both the U.S. government and stakeholders, which generally tends to be the same. We are in regular communication with other agencies and stakeholders about the program and where they see a need. Whenever we begin to hear there’s a need, we have discussions with the International Trade Administration, the State Department, and USTR to see what kind of interagency support there is for the position. If there seems to be general agreement that this would be a good place to put an attaché, then we start a formal interagency process to create the position, which includes the embassy or consulate where the position would be based to get their input as well. The factors we consider include the size of the market there, the importance of IP issues in that market to the U.S. government and stakeholders, and the nature of our bilateral relationship with that government.

How do you promote the program—do you find that most people are aware of it? 
More and more, we’re getting the word out, but there’s still more that can be done. It’s a big country and a lot of stakeholders don’t necessarily participate in Washington processes, so we’re trying to reach out more broadly. This interview, for example, will be one fantastic opportunity for people to learn about the program. In addition, all attachés come home to headquarters every December for a week of consultations and during that time they meet with a lot of different stakeholders, including INTA. In recent years, we’ve been having the attachés go to our regional offices as well, now that we have them. And we’ve also been including them in IP association meetings—at the INTA Annual Meeting we had a panel of attachés, for example. And then, of course, we disseminate information through the website.

Do other countries have similar programs?
They do. Japan was actually the first country to have an IP attaché—they started at the WTO in Geneva and since then they’ve expanded. A lot of countries see IP protection and enforcement as a global issue, and some are also following our lead, because they’ve seen the good work our attachés do. Korea, the EU, France, UK, and Italy have all placed IP attachés and we see that as a very positive development. Our attachés are able to work with other attachés in the countries where they’re posted. They can collaborate and cooperate and help each other lighten their load and share information.

What does the future of the program hold? 
One thing we keep looking at is whether we should expand further. At the moment we have pretty broad coverage, but we do keep looking at whether expansion would be useful, so we welcome any input from INTA members. We are also trying to facilitate more cross-regional collaboration between attachés—both our own and attachés of other countries—because we see more and more cross-regional issues arising, especially in the enforcement space with counterfeit goods that can flow across one country’s borders into others’. We are also formalizing our procedures and policies more because the program has been in existence for more than ten years now, so it has matured.

And then, last but not least, we are very interested in continuing to ensure a pipeline of good candidates for these positions. As you can imagine, given the nature of the job, we need people who are not only experienced and knowledgeable IP lawyers, but who are able to be excellent diplomats as well, and that’s a range of skills not everyone has. Of course, the attachés also have to deal with all types of IP issues. So what we’ve been trying to do is to educate the public about the program, and to make sure everyone at the USPTO is fully aware of it, so we get good candidates from within our ranks as well as the broader U.S. government. We need high quality attachés to make sure the program continues to be as successful as it has been to date.

Who should INTA members contact for more input? 
The first point of contact should be Dominic Keating at Dominic.Keating@uspto.gov, the Director of the program. They’re also welcome to email me directly at Shira.Perlmutter@uspto.gov. We’d be delighted to hear any suggestions.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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