IP attache

USPTO Finally Travels Up the Diplomatic Staircase

According to a USPTO news release, four USPTO overseas officials have been elevated to the diplomatic rank of “Counselor”.  These officials include: the incumbent PTO officials in Beijing, Duncan Willson; New Delhi, John Cabeca; Mexico City, Cynthia Henderson; and the EU, Susan Wilson.  My congratulations to all of them. This is a well-deserved, long-awaited and necessary improvement.

Both Duncan Willson and Cindy Henderson were former members of the USPTO “China team.” I have also worked with all of these individuals on China-related issues.  In addition to their promotion in diplomatic rank, my former colleagues Michael Mangelson and Elaine Wu now serve the PTO with new titles as Principal Counsel and Director for China IP, Office of Policy & International Affairs. 

The expansion of the IP Attaché program to include direct representation in foreign countries began with this author in China in 2004, and was attributable to the vision of former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former USPTO Director Jon Dudas, former US Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr.,  and the former US Embassy Beijing Minister – Counselors for Economic Affairs Amb.  James Zumwalt and Dr. Robert Wang, among others.   Although the program has since received strong support from many quarters, it was initially opposed because it was expensive, placed talent overseas, and also diverted USPTO funds away from patent and trademark examination. It required over two years of work in Washington DC for me to be placed at the Embassy under a USPTO secondment to the State Department (US Embassy) overseas. 

I often remarked in those years that I was leaving PTO as a “refugee”, unlikely to come back to return after my time in China due to the many heated discussions that I endured over the necessity of creating a USPTO post in China.  Nonetheless, many US and even Chinese officials warmly welcomed me throughout the process. I vividly remember heads turning to look at me when former MofCOM Vice Minister Long Yongtu publicly welcoming my anticipated work in China around 2003 during a public JCCT meeting chaired by Theodore Kassinger. By 2005, the USPTO China office was so successful that USTR had requested that China create a counterpart “ombudsman” post in the United States for a Chinese IP official.  To my surprise, when I later returned periodically to the United States, it seemed as if I had become a minor IP hero. Even the Wall Street Journal had decided to interview me about my job.

Once I was stationed in Beijing, I realized that the hierarchical nature of the Embassy could make it difficult for me to always have appropriate access to leading IP or trade officials in the Chinese government.  After being transferred from the State Department to the Commerce Department at the US Embassy around 2006, I began to seek elevation of my diplomatic rank from Attaché (a relatively low diplomatic rank) to Counselor.  It availed me little that the US Patent Office has a long history of international engagement, including the posting of Charles Fleischmann, a US Patent Office official to Europe, in 1844.  The elevation of diplomatic rank to Attaché had  been opposed by many foreign affairs officials in other US government agencies who saw higher rank as rationed commodities that are best allocated to their own staff.  My official title was in fact lower than the rank of many counterpart officials from other foreign embassies.  For example, the 2016 US State Department Diplomatic List, ranked the Chinese IP Attaché to the United States, Ms. Yu Ning, at a “Counselor” level. Counselor was at least one grade higher than the First Secretary rank I ultimately achieved, and several grades higher than Attaché. An Attaché, I learned, often did not have the rank to be in the “room where it happens.”

Over the years, many other officials, including PTO Directors, Deputy Directors, and staff, had also advocated for diplomatic rank advancement.  Among my many interventions, I testified on this issue in 2018, before the US-China Economic and Security Commission and spoke on it at a conference hosted by Columbia University in 2012. I have also contributed to many conferences and position papers on this topic.  The consensus from speakers at the Columbia University conference was that “there is no formal structure in place in overseas missions to … undertake engagement with foreign counterparts at a suitable diplomatic rank.”   

My many thanks and congratulations to all those who have helped support this successful bi-partisan effort!

Categories: IP attache, JCCT

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5 replies »

  1. I’m afraid the title “attaché” was a hangover from the first IP Attaché role, at the US Mission to the WTO. At the Mission, just about everyone was an attaché because the trade folks did not want to be boxed in to meetings “at their level”. Sometimes, the person you needed to see was a Second Secretary, sometimes a Minister-Counsellor. Accordingly, someone at USTR took the decision that the US had attachés, and if anyone in Geneva or at the WTO wanted to meet with the US, they had to ditch diplomatic convention and meet with an attaché. Made for interesting ambassador-level meetings when we had to stand in: Ambo, Ambo, Ambo, Attaché, Ambo, …” Mark, you witnessed first hand how and why this does not always translate to a purely diplomatic environment in capitals where trade is one of many topics of discussion, and diplomatic convention is largely unquestioned. It only took 20 years to pivot on the issue. Well done and well deserved to the newly minted Counsellors (and Elaine as Director of China IP). Also heard this week that Mary Critharis is the new head of “OLIA”. Brilliant! All good news from PTO.


  2. Excellent development, Congrats to All! Special shout out to Duncan for providing IP support to us in China! Continued thanks to Mark for keeping us abreast of IP developments, especially in China.


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