‘A Life Well Lived’: Remembering Q. Todd Dickinson

“There will be other giants in the field; there will, for me at least, never be another Todd.” – Brad Watts

In the midst of so much daily sadness around the global pandemic, 2020 dealt us another blow when we learned this week that our friend and giant of the IP world, Q. Todd Dickinson, passed away on May 3, 2020. In response to our In Memoriam article, many of you weighed in with your own personal memories and accounts of Todd, and many more were eager to share their tribute with us separately.

His passing has also been noted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), where he served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO – the first to hold that title – from 1999 to 2001. Prior to that, Dickinson was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to be Deputy Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks and became Acting Commissioner after the departure of Commissioner Bruce Lehman, and then Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks.

Q. Todd Dickinson (Left) and Andrei Iancu (Right)

The current USPTO Director, Andrei Iancu, said the following of Dickinson in a statement published yesterday:

As Director, he was beloved by USPTO staff and lauded by outside stakeholders. One examiner said that Todd made him proud to serve as an examiner at the USPTO, and another remembered his mantra that the USPTO is the “patent office, not the rejection office.” Former USPTO Solicitor John Whealan said that everyone’s high regard for Todd as Director was a central reason that the USPTO was given more autonomy under his leadership….

I began working with Todd many years ago when I was in private practice, but that work relationship grew over time, particularly when I became USPTO Director. Todd was a mentor, and he was a friend.

I, the USPTO, and the entire IP community will sorely miss Q. Todd Dickinson. He is survived by his husband Robert Atkins and his brother John Dickinson, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.

May Todd’s memory be an inspiration to all.

Dickinson also served as American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) Executive Director from 2008 to 2014. Current AIPLA President Barbara A. Fiacco said yesterday that “Todd Dickinson was recognized around the world as a leader in the intellectual property community. He had a passionate commitment to the intellectual property system. On behalf of AIPLA, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to his husband Robert, and his countless friends and colleagues.”

Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) released a statement on May 7 describing Dickinson as “a great friend to our offices” who had “an immeasurable impact on our patent system.” Their full statement is available here.

Below are compiled the heartfelt recollections we have received thus far about the unmatched career and character of Q. Todd Dickinson. If you would like to add yours, please email us at [email protected]. 

Nicholas Godici, Nicholas Godici Patent Consulting

We are all saddened at the passing of our friend Todd. Those of us from Todd’s PTO days will remember Todd as a leader, staunch advocate for the IP system and the PTO, and above all, a friend. He gave many of us the opportunity to grow and advance in our roles at the PTO and I will be forever grateful for that. I communicated with Todd within the last few weeks and we made plans to get together on his next trip to California. Todd, I will tip my glass to you in memory.

Samson Helfgott, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

I was so sorry to learn of the passing of our good friend Todd. In his numerous capacities and with many different titles, he made the greatest contributions to the intellectual property community both domestically and internationally. I traveled the world with him in connection with intellectual property Harmonization. Wherever he went he was highly respected, admired, and most often listened to of all participants. He always had a smile and joke for everyone. He was everyone’s friend and colleague. He will surely be missed.

Abe Hershkovitz, Hershkovitz & Associates, PLLC

While I was not part of the circle of friends that could permit himself to call him “Q” or “Todd”, or even “QT”, I did have the pleasure to serve under PTO Director Dickinson during my stint in the PTO Office of Petitions. His willingness to really listen, consider and make quick decisions on suggestions made by participants at various staff meetings made him stand out as a “get things done” executive. We are all shocked by his premature departure. RIP, Director Dickinson.

Philip Johnson, Johnson & Johnson (retired) 

I will not try to recount my friend Todd’s many professional accomplishments. That legacy is indelibly written in the public record and eloquently recounted in many published remembrances.

But it was Todd’s character that destined him to become a role model in our profession. Gifted with the unusual first name of “Q” (the Q doesn’t stand for anything else), Todd dedicated his life to improving every institution with which he became associated. While his many achievements are often recounted, his personality was as much shaped by his ability to overcome disappointment. Exemplary was his early interest in politics, where after running and being defeated by eleven votes for student body president at Allegheny College in 1972, he ran again in 1973 only to be defeated again, notwithstanding having “swept the fraternities in one huge, nearly unanimous chunk.” (Campus, Vol. 96, No. 44, Allegheny College, Feb. 20, 1973). He went on to draw important lessons from positions such as Chair of the San Francisco Parking Authority to those in some of our nation’s largest and most respected corporate legal departments, associations and law firms — not to mention the USPTO.

Todd in the Green Room at the White House with 21C and Friends after AIA Signing.

My close association with Todd started in about 2005 when we (with others) co-founded the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform. This began a 15-year collaboration on legislative proposals, speaking engagements, and appearances on Capitol Hill. There were often tense, trying times along the way, but I never saw Todd lose his cool, even when promises made to him were broken. As he once explained to me, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!”

Through the years, Todd not only retained his good humor and personal dignity but developed wisdom and perspective. He was intensely loyal to husband Robert and to his friends, and always strived to help his colleagues. It’s good to know that a guy like Todd could win in the game of life. His example should reaffirm our faith in the human spirit. 

David J. Kappos, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

Todd was a special person, who did much for and meant much to many of us. A keen strategist; an astute leader; a strong advocate; a steward of the IP system and innovation — Todd played roles, all extraordinarily well. Todd was a friend to me going back many years, and through many phases in both of our lives. I’ll miss him dearly.

Sherry KnowlesSherry Knowles, Knowles Intellectual Property Strategies

I was shocked and saddened to learn that Todd left us last weekend. He was part of the heartbeat and the history of IP for as long as I can remember. He was an icon at any assembly of IP practitioners, from small groups to huge conferences. I have been on many patent policy panels with him. I was always assured that when Todd was on the panel, there would be a lively discussion, lots of great challenging questions and some good laughs. He also knew everything about what was going on in Washington. If you wanted to know exactly what was happening behind the scenes, talk to Todd. No more.

When I think of Todd, a story comes to mind. Over ten years ago, in 2009, we both traveled to India to participate in the George Washington Law School’s India Project IP Conference, along with John Whealan, Chief Judge Rader and several Federal Circuit Judges. The environment was hostile. A number of anti-patent public interest groups, including Doctors without Borders, Knowledge Ecology International and others sent delegates with the mission to disrupt the conference. It was our job to convince this group of disbelievers that a strong intellectual property system is good for India because it would stimulate domestic innovation, increase the quality of life and improve the economy and employment opportunities. Tough job! Todd was tireless, passionate and sincere in his conversations with the audience. At one point, the atmosphere was so charged that a fist fight almost broke out among attendees!  We spent a few hours at the bar that night laughing at the full brawl that was narrowly avoided. And raising a glass to the hope that the day made a difference in a few minds.

Todd applied that same passion and great spirit to the patent eligibility debate, including in his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee last June.

A life well lived. Thank you, Todd.

Judge Paul MichelChief Judge Paul Michel, Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (ret.)

Although Todd Dickinson’s many public achievements and titles are well known, his behind-the- scenes contributions are less so, yet equally rich and influential. For many years, I and my wife, Brooke England, had the pleasure of Todd’s friendship as well as Robert’s. We last saw and talked happily with Todd in December at the memorial service at the Markey Courthouse for Don Dunner, another selfless IP leader. Todd’s public leadership was widely recognized among that group, as elsewhere.

I was, however, also privileged to witness Todd’s wise and candid counsel, delivered privately and without any personal or client-driven agenda, to other IP leaders. The counsel was invariably thoughtful, realistic and grounded in his own vast personal experience. Among the many I saw benefiting were Director Iancu and the members of previous 101 reform groups led by Adam Mossoff and Don Dunner, and one currently led by David Kappos and me. An exceptionally generous man, Todd loved, defended and improved the patent system at which he was an surpassing expert. But he also loved and actively supported those in the IP field, both in public and in private. And, he did so with good grace and quiet humor. We will all be missing him.

Vern Norviel, Wilson Sonsini

I had the honor of working with Todd twice in my career.  First, we both started out as young lawyers at Chevron, and later when I was a member of the PPAC.  I think both of us learned a great deal with our colleagues at Chevron and both remained grateful for the experience. Through the rest of his career you would see reflections of the Chevron experience in all he did.  But, true to Todd form, he wasn’t just a lawyer- of course.  He also was involved in San Francisco politics (naturally for those that knew him). Diane Feinstein had served as the mayor for a year or two, after the murder of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone by Dan White. She appointed him to the San Francisco Parking Commission.  To those of us today, this seems utterly unremarkable. But at the time, he was referred to as the “gay community” representative to the parking commission. Times were still turbulent in San Francisco, and he did his part to make it no big deal to be gay, at a time when it still was. In a small way, as a result of Todd’s pioneer spirit, we wouldn’t think twice about a member of a commission in San Francisco being gay. Or an Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Thank goodness. I believe Senator Feinstein later was a part of his appointment as Assistant Secretary.

He leaves a big gap.

Scott Phillips, DP Wine Cellar

I hail from neither the IP world nor the legal community. Rather, I write simply as a longtime, incredibly sad friend of Todd’s.

I met Todd back in 1970, while we shared our undergraduate years at Allegheny College. Todd was a fraternity pledge brother of mine and part of a small but very close group of 13.

We were a solid, tight knit group and from the very first, Todd, or QT as we all knew him, was an amazing and integral member!  Always a leader, his sharp wit, glorious sense of humor, and knowledge served us all very well. Especially in later years, when he honed his coming legal skills as our Parliamentarian. He was a silver-tongued menace when it came to tying the opposition in knots with his knowledge, and pure enjoyment, of Robert’s Rules!

Just this past July, Todd attended the first ever reunion held by these friends of old — after 45 years. As we gathered on the shores of Pokegama Lake in far northern Minnesota, to a person we noted, that as accomplished as he was over his amazing career of public service and the law, Todd had kept his wonderful sense of humor, care and concern for others, and ability to entertain a group in his unique style!  To everyone’s delight, Todd hadn’t changed one iota.

In our fraternity we have a creed we all agreed to follow.  It’s called The True Gentleman and it reads as follows:

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from goodwill and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

To me, nothing comes any closer to describing the person my friend, QT, was.

All whose lives were touched by Todd, especially Robert, are far richer thanks to him!

Robert L. Pilaud, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.

In the late 1990s, I had the honor of serving as an Examiner at the USPTO under Todd Dickinson’s incredible leadership. I met Todd several times in my official capacity and at informal events in and out of the Office. He was a consummate professional and, for those of us in the industry, a “patent guy” (a trend in USPTO leadership that continued after he left). By all accounts, he absolutely loved being Director of the USPTO and Under Secretary of Commerce. I am of course sad to see him depart this world, 67 is too young(!), but I am grateful I had a chance to meet him and get to know him. Peace.

James Pooley

James Pooley, James Pooley, a Professional Law Corporation

One of the first things you noticed right away about Todd was how smart and articulate he was, and it could be intimidating. But if you were lucky enough to spend time with him, you discovered how open and interested he was, not just in the issues, but in you, and what you thought. Todd was always ready to take in new information, and it helped that he had a great sense of humor, keeping perspective when it mattered most. He was a ground-breaking leader of the PTO, showing what it meant to be of service to a community of users. Most of all, of course, he was a great friend who cared deeply about those around him. We’ve lost a unique member of our family.

Judge Randall Rader, The Rader Group, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Ret.)

Todd was a giant in our profession. Succeeding Commissioner Lehman, Q. Todd brought even more distinction and order to the work of the USPTO. He would always find a positive perspective even when IP suffered so many setbacks at the hands of the Judiciary. Whether teaching students at GWU, participating in board meetings, lobbying Congress to improve IP, or attending and sponsoring social events with Robert, I always delighted to sit at his side and absorb his wisdom and energy. He was a dear friend and an unparalleled leader. Heaven will have a much better IP program after today. RIP Q!

Terry Rea

Teresa Rea, Crowell Moring; Former Acting Director USPTO

Todd Dickinson was a force. His presence in any room was quickly noted and people gravitated toward him. He enjoyed people and he liked to actually get to know each and every one. He made everyone feel special. He helped many people with their careers including me. He offered perspectives, suggestions and observations in a friendly but concerned manner. He wanted all of us to be the best that we could be.

Todd could encourage dialogue amongst disparate groups. He was the connector. He helped advance IP law by subtle and not so subtle ways by speaking up at the right time. His personality opened doors and forced everyone to at least listen.

Todd touched each one of us in a very personal way. We have still not yet fully absorbed the fact that we will not see him again. It may take a very long time. Todd, you will be truly missed.

Russell SliferRuss Slifer, Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner; Former Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office

At a time when we are losing tens of thousands of our family, friends and fellow citizens to a pandemic, it is difficult to quantify the immense loss of one individual. Todd was more than just a member of our small IP community, he dedicated his life to leading improvements to the U.S. patent system. His experience and insights will be impossible to replace. I will miss our conversations.

Bob Stoll

Robert Stoll, Faegre Drinker Biddle and Reath, Former Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO

Todd was a brilliant defender of the patent system, but also had a razor-sharp wit. He could never let an e-mail response stand without a further question or quip. He frequently had me laughing out loud at meetings. If a conversation strayed away from him, he would form spread scissors with his index and middle fingers, wave them across the gathered group, and then point them back at himself: “Eyes back on Todd!”  he would say with a knowing smile. Or he would mimic a phone with his fingers and place them to his head:  “Clue phone!,” he would announce. “It’s for you. It’s about me!” I will never forget when Todd, Peter Fowler and I were in Vietnam and had a weekend together between meetings. Back then, motor bikes and cars were rare, so we hired bikes with carriages that were powered by men who pedaled us  to a water-puppet show (nothing I would do again) and then to a bar called Apocalypse Now (one of the few for foreigners). On the way home, our pedalers were so tired from dragging three rather large Americans that each of us ended up pedaling them the rest of the way back, laughing the whole way. I will miss my friend Todd.

Raymond Van Dyke , Van Dyke Intellectual Property Law

Todd was a stalwart proponent of the patent system, and a great guy. As a young attorney I remember him as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – a title I found amazing (and still do). I interacted with him while he was AIPLA Executive Director, and had him as an LES speaker not that long ago when we spoke on challenges to the patent system. He was always able to expound on any IP topic, knew the politics of any patent Bill, and always commanded respect. We are less without him.

Herbert C. Wamsley, Former Intellectual Property Owners Association Executive Director

Todd Dickinson became one of the great leaders of the intellectual property law profession when he moved to Washington, DC in 1998 to become the deputy head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a year and a half later the head of that office. A patent attorney earlier for 20 years, he quickly adapted to the ways of the nation’s capital and navigated the political shoals to improve the patent and trademark systems in the U.S. and worldwide. He was one of the best known heads of the office. As recounted by Gene Quinn, he was just “Todd” to everyone, and he knew everyone. He always had time for the younger people as well as the senators and cabinet members.

After he left the government for private and corporate practice and AIPLA Executive Director, he continued to be a very visible force for an effective IP system. He worked closely with IPO and other groups to fight against the efforts to weaken the U.S. patent system.

Most of all, he was a wonderful friend to so many, as testified to by Gene, Renee and Eileen at IP Watchdog.

Brad Watts, Chief Counsel, Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chairman, Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Senate Judiciary Committee

It’s hard for me to put into words how sad I was to hear of Todd’s passing. He was a great man and an even better friend. I first met Todd when Senator Tillis began working on patent eligibility reform. He was one of our earliest supporters and his advice and guidance throughout that process was invaluable and unparalleled. As we worked together, he not only became a colleague I trusted, but also a friend. One of my happiest memories of Todd involved Barrel and Oak winery in Delaplane, Virginia. I was out there for the day with friends and he and Robert met us for a glass (ok, let’s be honest, for me, it was several) of wine. He told us stories from his USPTO days and was quick to crack a joke (a few at my own expense). The weather was lovely, a true perfect day, made even moreso by his presence. Todd, Robert, and I had been planning for months to try and get together for supper or cocktails, yet something always got in the way: work, sickness, etc. I regret now we never made that happen. People rightly note that Todd was a giant in the world of intellectual property, a lion, a leader. All of those things are true. But he was also a good man and a good friend. There will be other giants in the field; there will, for me at least, never be another Todd. I hope he’s looking down on all of us now and smiling, knowing how big of a difference he made. Todd, I’ll see you on the other side, and I hope you’ll be waiting for me with a cocktail in hand and ready to greet me as an old friend.

John White

John White, University of Virginia School of Law

My regret is that I did not get to know Todd personally as well as I knew him professionally. Professionally, he was lots of fun and had a unique perspective. He brought an energy and vitality and reality to the patent conversation across politics and technology; and, he as not shy about sharing his views forthrightly among those he trusted. What Todd thought and said made a difference. His reconstitution of AIPLA as a source of relevant opinion was admirable, and very much missed when he left. An evening on the road with Todd was not soon forgotten; it was informative and hilarious and always a good time! I expect, personally, he was just as much fun and even more engaging. Not often said about patent folks. I looked forward to getting to know him better. My condolences to those whose life he filled; he has left a void.

Todd delivering remarks at IPWatchdog’s 20th Anniversary celebration in October 2019. We will never forget you, Todd.


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Join the Discussion

2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Kevin R.]
    Kevin R.
    May 8, 2020 12:16 am

    Watching Todd enjoy his time with his fellow IP giants at conferences like IAM, LES, and the intimate Naples/Akron conference was a lot of fun for me as a young attorney coming up. My condolences to his many close friends and colleagues.

  • [Avatar for Paul Cole]
    Paul Cole
    May 7, 2020 07:56 am

    Many thanks indeed for publishing this superb tribute and to the many individuals who generously gave of their time to contribute. Echoing John White: “condolences to those whose life he filled”. He will be sorely missed at AIPLA meetings.