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Blog Category: Office of General Counsel

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA)

On September 8, the Senate passed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), H.R. 1249, by a vote of 89-9.  The bill now will be sent to the President for his signature.

This legislation has been a major priority of the Department of Commerce and the Office of General Counsel since the beginning of this Administration.  The AIA marks the first comprehensive reform to U.S. patent law in 60 years and transforms the patent system to accommodate the needs of 21st Century inventors and businesses. 

At a time of great need for the U.S. economy, the AIA will foster American innovation, provide greater certainty to businesses and inventors, and promote job growth.  Fundamental changes to the patent system made by the legislation include:

  • Establishing a “first-inventor-to-file,” which will simplify the U.S. patent application system and harmonize it with others around the world;
  • Providing the opportunity for third parties to submit information regarding pending patent applications and creating a post-grant opposition proceeding to identify patents that should not have been granted.  Both these changes will improve patent quality, which will promote investment and job growth;
  • Improving the system to administratively challenge patents, which will speed adjudication of meritorious challenges and provide faster resolution and certainty for patent holders facing unsubstantiated challenges; and
  • Reducing fees for small and micro-entities by as much as 75%, which will foster innovation.

The AIA requires a series of rulemakings and studies, which will need to be completed expeditiously.  The Office of General Counsel will be working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to complete the work as quickly as possible and to bring the benefits of the legislation to consumers and businesses alike.  Implementation Effort

General Counsel Kerry travels to China for the US-China Joint Liaison Group Anti-Corruption Working Group

General Counsel Kerry in China

During the week of July 25th, General Counsel Kerry travelled to Beijing to continue discussions with China on the shared goal of addressing bribery of foreign government officials by U.S. and Chinese companies.  Following extensive dialogue led by General Counsel Kerry, China amended its criminal code earlier this year to criminalize the bribery of foreign government officials.  The United States has criminalized such conduct since 1977 through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). 

Now General Counsel Kerry and an interagency team, including representatives of the Departments of Justice and State and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are sharing with Chinese officials how the United States has implemented and enforced the FCPA and are seeking to encourage China to publicize, fully implement, and rigorously enforce their new law.   The discussions, held under the auspices of the U.S.-China Joint Liaison Group Anti-Corruption Working Group, also included a roundtable in which U.S. and Chinese companies exchanged ideas about how they prevent and detect corrupt payments to foreign officials through compliance programs within their enterprises. 

When opening the roundtable, General Counsel Kerry stressed the need for government and industry to work together in combating transnational bribery, stating: "A legal regime criminalizing transnational bribery can only be effective when the government and industry work together by incentivizing compliance, instituting strong and effective international compliance and ethics programs, and maintaining and applying deterrent penalties."  Opening Remarks

While in Beijing, General Counsel Kerry also met with Ministry of Commerce officials, representatives of the U.S. private sector, and other U.S. and Chinese officials to discuss commercial law issues and intellectual property rights protection and enforcement. 

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United States Department of Commerce Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations

This blog post is about an older plan. The United States Department of Commerce Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations at the end of FY 2013 is available here.

The current FY 2011 Continuing Resolution may expire without new budget authority. While it is not anticipated that there will be a lapse in appropriations, the Department must be prepared for a potential lapse in funding that would necessitate a significant reduction in operations.

Prior to a potential lapse in funding, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires the Department to submit a draft plan for agency operations in the absence of appropriations (a "shutdown plan"). This plan will likely be modified with additional guidance from the Office of Personnel Management and OMB, as the situation develops, and may be changed by the Department, as circumstances warrant.

This plan complies with the guidance provided by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce.

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General Counsel Kerry on Promoting Ethical Businesses Internationally

General Counsel Kerry at the OECD Event in Washington DC by Elodie Turchi of the OECD

On March 22, 2011, DOC General Counsel Kerry spoke at a symposium titled “Toward Coherence in International Economic Law:  Perspectives at the 50th Anniversary of the OECD” regarding the Administration’s work in promoting ethical conduct by international businesses.  The symposium took place in Washington, DC, and was sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the American Society of International Law, and the George Washington International Law Review, in cooperation with the International Law Students Association. 

In his remarks, General Counsel Kerry highlighted the work of the Department of Commerce and other U.S. agencies to fight corruption in international business transactions, noting President Obama’s linking of corruption, human rights, and well being, and Secretary Locke’s views about corruption as a barrier to U.S. economic growth.  He discussed the Justice Department’s emphasis on enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Commerce Department’s engagement with the private sector, his upcoming trip to Doha for a regional conference on integrity in the private sector put on by the Commerce Department’s Commercial Law Development Program, and Commerce’s work (with the Departments of State and Justice) in pressing foreign governments to enact and enforce strong anti-bribery laws.  He was joined on the panel by Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez and NGO and private sector representatives. 

General Counsel Kerry said:  “This Administration is dedicated to striking the right balance between fostering commerce and promoting good conduct by the business community.  I don’t see this as a trade-off.  I think we can have both, and that we should have both. We will keep striving to have both.”   

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Protecting Consumers & Promoting Innovation Online: A Call for Baseline Privacy Legislation

Guest blog post by Cameron Kerry, General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The time has come for Congress to pass strong Internet consumer privacy legislation that provides clear rules of the road for businesses and consumers while preserving the innovation and free flow of information that are hallmarks of the Internet economy.

That’s the Obama Administration’s conclusion based on the work we have been doing on commercial data privacy.  Three months ago, the Commerce Department published its Green Paper, which contained preliminary policy recommendations to enhance consumer protection and strengthen online trust, while ensuring the Web remains a platform for innovation, jobs, and economic growth

In response, the Commerce Department received thoughtful and well-researched comments from over a hundred stakeholders representing industry, consumer groups, and academic sectors.  We carefully reviewed all them.  Through the Privacy and Internet Policy Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which I co-chair with Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder, we consulted with Federal agencies and key White House offices to develop a roadmap for moving forward on this important Administration priority.

Based our review, we have concluded that baseline consumer privacy legislation will strengthen the U.S. Internet privacy framework for consumers and businesses alike.  The Obama Administration is committed to working with Congress to pass a bill that provides a stronger statutory framework to protect consumers’ privacy interests in data that are collected and used or disclosed in commercial contexts in the Internet economy, while supporting innovation.  Consumer privacy legislation should have the following elements:

General Counsel Kerry addresses the 2011 State of the Net Conference

On January 18, 2011, DOC General Counsel Kerry delivered keynote remarks at the seventh annual State of the Net Conference hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.  The conference is one of the largest information technology policy conference in the U.S. and provides a venue for academics, consumer groups, industry and government to hear from policy experts from across the spectrum of information technology issues and to interact in a bi-partisan environment.

In his remarks, General Counsel Kerry highlighted key policy recommendations from the Commerce Department’s recently released  policy green paper “Commercial Data Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy: A Dynamic Policy Framework.” These policy recommendations aim to promote consumer privacy online while ensuring the Internet remains a platform that spurs innovation, job creation, and economic growth.  Recommendations included: establishing Fair Information Practice Principles comparable to a “privacy bill of rights” for online consumers; developing enforceable privacy codes of conduct in specific sectors with multi-stakeholder input; and engaging the international community to encourage global Interoperability. The Department is seeking additional public comment on the privacy paper to further the policy discussion and ensure the framework benefits all stakeholders in the Internet economy. Comments are due January 28th.

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2010 Distinguished Service Award

General Counsel Kerry and Deputy General Counsel Washington presented the Office of General Counsel Distinguished Service Award to 27 members of the office.  The recipients were recognized for an array of accomplishments.  Those recipients are:

The 2010 Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade

On December 14 and 15, Commerce Secretary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Kirk, together with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, co-chaired the 21st annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Washington, DC.  General Counsel Kerry participated in this year’s JCCT, which covered a range of issues and yielded positive results, particularly China’s commitments to enhance its enforcement of intellectual property rights, adopt non-discriminatory government procurement policies, and collaborate with the U.S. in areas of emerging technology such as Smart Grid.  China’s commitments will lead to increased opportunities for U.S. exporters and a more level playing field for U.S. companies operating in China.   

General Counsel Kerry led the U.S. delegation’s work on commercial law cooperation.  In this area, the two sides agreed to continue to promote mutual understanding of commercial legal developments impacting U.S.-China trade.  The primary vehicle for this cooperation is the U.S.-China Legal Exchange, which GC Kerry co-leads.  The United States and China agreed to convene the 2011 Legal Exchange in the United States in cities and on topics to be determined by mutual agreement.  This builds upon the work of GC Kerry, Chinese Deputy International Trade Representative Chong Quan, and Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council Vice-Minister An Jian, who successfully led the 2010 U.S.-China Legal Exchange to Hangzhou (October 18), Wuhan (October 20), and Chengdu (October 22), which focused on U.S. export promotion activities and trade remedies laws and practices. 

Read more about Commerce’s participation here.

2010 Office of General Counsel Awards

General Counsel Kerry

On Tuesday, December 14, 2010 General Counsel Kerry presided over the Office of General Counsel Annual Awards Ceremony.  He was joined by Secretary Locke who delivered remarks, thanking the office for their tireless work over the past year.  The Secretary acknowledged the critical role that the office’s attorneys and support staff played in helping him implement a number of important Department and Administration priorities.  He introduced GC Kerry, who detailed the broad range of accomplishments achieved by OGC offices over the past year.  He highlighted the role OGC played in the successful completion of Phase 1 of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the successful litigation of the Supreme Court Case Bilski v. Kappos (08-964).  He also applauded OGC’s contributions to the successful execution of the Decennial Census, ongoing Oil Spill litigation, and Export Control Reform.

Secretary Locke and GC Kerry presented the two Attorney of the Year Awards and the Support Staff of the Year Award.  The 2010 recipients are:

Attorney of the Year - Rayna G. Eller – ELLD/Census & Economic Statistics Administration

Rayna has provided exceptional legal services during the past year, and made very significant contributions which have advanced several critical missions of the Department.  Nowhere were her abilities more evident than in her effective advice to, and representation of, the Census Bureau during the 2010 Decennial Census.  More than any other staff attorney in the Department, Rayna’s actions provided the Census Bureau with the ability to hire and retain the workforce necessary to complete its Constitutionally-mandated duty to render an accurate count of the Nation’s population.

Attorney of the Year - Peter R. Klason – Bureau of Industry and Security

Peter has provided outstanding support to the Bureau of Industry and Security over the past year, displaying tremendous versatility and depth of knowledge on a range of issues.  His work has proven integral throughout each step of the President’s Export Control Reform Initiative.  He also played a major role ensuring the President’s recent trip to India was a success by ensuring that BIS was able to deliver on new bilateral agreements with the Government of India

Support Staff of the Year - Michael Christensen – US Patent and Trademark Office

Michael served as the IT Liaison/IT Specialist assigned to the Office of the General Counsel at the Patent and Trademark Office.  He has been the “go-to” person to get things done and is a model teammate who set a positive example.  Michael exhibited great dedication to his technical support work while serving as the IT expert for services, system development, and coordination with OGC, USPTO, and DOC customers, frequently working long hours to provide IT customer service and systems design support.  He consistently volunteered to help attorneys, paralegals, and support personnel with a myriad of IT tasks to ensure legal mission requirements were met.  Michael has been a leader on the EDMS project and a leader in the OGC Technology Working Group.

The Administrative Conference of the United States - 2010 Plenary Session

Alternate TextOn December 9-10, 2010, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) met for the first time since 1995.  General Counsel Cameron Kerry represented the Department of Commerce and was joined by NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer.  The representatives heard remarks from ACUS Chairman Paul Verkuil and were officially sworn in as members of the Administrative Conference of the United States by Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia.  On Thursday a recommendation for new agency procedures addressing Federal preemption of state law was offered.  After some discussion and revision the recommendation was accepted.  On Friday, members were divided into five breakout groups to brainstorm about the direction the ACUS might take in the coming months and years.  The next Plenary Session will take place on June 16-17, 2011, in Washington, D.C.