IPO Honors Judge Michel and Dupont Inventors at Smithsonian

David Kappos and Hon. Paul Michel (ret.)

Last night the Intellectual Property Owners Association honored Judge Paul Michel, the recently retired Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, with the Distinguished IP Professional Award, which honors lifetime achievement.  The IPO also honored a trio of Dupont inventors, George Lahm, Ph.D., Thomas Selby, Ph.D. and Thomas Stevenson, Ph.D., awarding them collectively the National Inventor of the Year Award for their work on Rynaxypyr®, which is a safe and environmentally friendly insecticide and affects only insects and does not affect mammals.

The IPO event was held at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which was an excellent venue for this black-tie optional event. The event started at 7:00pm with drinks being served in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals on the second floor.  That is where I caught up with David Kappos and Judge Michel (see image left).

The evening was fun, the conversation excellent, the festivities appropriately dignified and not at all over the top.  I suspect the evening was humbling for Judge Michel.  The video montage of his life story was interspersed with the most flattering commentary you could image from fellow Federal Circuit Judges Pauline Newman, Richard Linn and Alan Lourie, all of whom were in attendance.

At these types of ceremonies everyone says such nice things, but what Judges Newman, Linn and Lourie said about Judge Michel seemed particularly heartfelt, and they seemed almost saddened to see their friend choose to leave and set out to make a difference advocating rather than opining.  The video also included flattering comments from Chief Judge Anthony Joseph Scirica of the Third Circuit, one of Judge Michel’s former clerks and executives of the IPO. It was extremely tasteful, gave an appropriate but not lingering recap of his career and did not linger or go on at an uncomfortable length as these things sometimes can do. Extremely well done and kuddos to the IPO.

Judge Michel delivers remarks at IPO; the view from Table 23, where I was sitting.

When Judge Michel took the podium he kept his remarks brief, but he did explain that moving forward he thought he could do more good for the industry as an advocate for what he believed in, so his stepping down from the Federal Circuit was not to end his distinguished public service career, but rather to transition into a new phase. During his remarks Michel explained that it was a hard decision to leave the Federal Circuit and in so doing he “gave up a job of total joy and satisfaction with life tenure…” Judge Michel also said that he would be calling on those in the room for assistance, and in fact said “I might call on each and every one of you.” While I do not know Judge Michel well, observing from afar, particularly over the 11 days since he stepped down, it seems as if Judge Michel fully intends to be engaged and the patent and innovation community may have just gained an extremely well respected advocate that can make a difference.

George Lahm (l); Thomas Selby (c) and Thomas Stevenson (r);
the IPO 2010 Nation Inventors of the Year.

The 37th National Inventor of the Year Award came immediately following Judge Michel being honored. All three of the inventors took the stage, but it was Lahm who delivered the remarks on behalf of the trio. Lahm explained that during the discovery and invention process that led to a revolutionary insecticide his thinking transformed from believing he was working on creating a new insecticide to thinking he was doing something extraordinarily meaningful that might positively impact world food supplies.

US Patent No. 7,696,233 titled Method for controlling particular insect pests by applying anthranilamide compounds, is most recent issued patent to Lahm. The patent also names Selby and Stevenson, co-honorees, as inventors. The anthranilamide compounds are nitrogen-containing aromatic compounds that are selective targets of the ryanodine receptor in insects.  See Insecticide acts on insect muscles (Chemistry World 2006).

The control of invertebrate pests is extremely important in achieving high crop efficiency. Damage by invertebrate pests to growing and stored agronomic crops can cause significant reduction in productivity and thereby result in increased costs to the consumer. In all honesty my electrical engineering mind has little hope of understanding this invention, but the Background succinctly explains the problem in terms that even I can understand:

The control of invertebrate pests is extremely important in achieving high crop efficiency. Damage by invertebrate pests to growing and stored agronomic crops can cause significant reduction in productivity and thereby result in increased costs to the consumer.

During Lahm’s presentation he attempted to put the world food crisis in perspective by pointing out that in the United States 16% of the average family income is spent on food, while in Nigeria 73% of of the average family income is spent on food.  So the development of an insecticide that affects only insect receptors while not affecting mammalian receptors, and which is also environmentally friendly is a major achievement, and the sort of achievement that literally could assist in feeding the world.  Thus the IPO selection of Lahm, Selby and Stevenson as National Inventors of the Year seems appropriately fitting if you ask me.

Todd Dickinson (top left); Donald Zuhn (top right); Louis Foreman & Gene Quinn.

On a personal note, I always enjoy these events. I love talking shop and when you get a lot of innovation industry business people and patent attorneys in the same room I am like a kid in a candy store. Conversation at my table, Table 23, was excellent and I gained some interesting perspectives on the life sciences and high technology sectors, as well as perspectives on why there is a shift away from large law firms toward smaller firms and solo practitioners. Thanks to Joseph Lucci of Woodcock Washburn (and fellow Jersey native) and Alan Kasper of Sughrue Mion and President of the AIPLA for wonderful dinner conversation. I am still processing much of our discussion, but a lot of insights were gained that will no doubt inform my writings over the next several weeks.

It is also always good to catch up with Louis Foreman, the Executive Producer of Everyday Edisons and Publisher of Inventors Digest. It was also good to catch up with Donald Zuhn of McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP and Patent Docs fame, as well as chatting with Todd Dickinson, former USPTO Director and current AIPLA Executive Director.

I know, I am a nerd, but I just love this stuff!


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