Molly Kocialski brings high-tech insight, sense of humor to her new job leading Denver U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Molly Kocialski has her own way of getting things done.
On her first day as the director of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Denver, she brought in homemade brownies.
“That’s been one of my calling cards in any place I’ve worked when you need to encourage engineers to do something,” said Kocialski, a patent lawyer with a chemical engineering degree who left Oracle for this new adventure. “Food typically containing sugar and fat does the job.”
Kocialski brings goodwill and a sense of humor to an office that just opened 20 months ago at 1961 Stout St.
The original director, Russell Slifer, left last March when he was promoted to deputy director of the entire patent office. He had hired a slew of new patent agents — now at 91 examiners and 15 judges — and created a room for inventors to meet with out-of-the-area examiners using virtual conferences.
But momentum slowed during the search for a new leader.
Michael Drapkin, who played a part in getting the district office in Denver, said Kocialski’s name rose to the top.
“Molly is such a strong leader,” said Drapkin, a partner at the Holland & Hart law firm in Denver. “She’s got boundless energy, and she’s such an advocate for Colorado. She’s got great rapport with her staff. And her vision is right. She wants to be a pioneer and have all sorts of projects for the Denver office. Now that she’s in, we’re very excited. The whole community likes her a lot.”
With the office set up, Kocialski, whose first day was Jan. 19, says she can focus on education and reaching out to local inventors in a region that takes in Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
“One of our biggest challenges is just the land mass that this region covers. Nine states with big distances between everything,” Kocialski said during an interview on her 11th day on the job. “The other part we need to focus on is that we like the urban corridors, but we have to recognize that a lot of that inventing goes on in our rural communities, especially here in Colorado.”
But overall, educating inventors and future inventors is key.
“There are some myths that seem to prevail no matter how many times you (correct) them, like the ‘Poor Man’s Patent.’ There’s a myth out there that you can mail yourself your patent application and that somehow gives you intellectual-property rights. Not true!” Kocialski said.
Part of the work, she said, is “dispelling those myths and making sure that when people talk about IP, which is our nation’s greatest export, that they are actually talking about the things that are correct and that matter.”
Getting an office in Denver dates back to at least 2008, when Drapkin and John Posthumus, an intellectual-property attorney at Sheridan Ross PC, traveled to Washington, D.C., to pitch the idea. The two were committee chairs of the Colorado Bar Association.
“Our theory was if you limit your scope to Washington, D.C., are you going to get the best talent there is? Google isn’t just in Silicon Valley. They’re building a campus in Boulder. It really makes more sense to have geographical diversity,” Drapkin said.
When President Barack Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act into law in 2011, new district offices were mandated. Detroit became the USPTO’s first location outside of the Washington area. Denver was second. Offices have since opened in Dallas and the Silicon Valley.
“Denver won the bake-off because we’d been working on it for a while,” Drapkin said.
New district offices represented just one piece of the America Invents Act , which is best known for ditching the “first to invent” idea in favor of “first to file,” to speed up approval and minimize challenges by previously undocumented inventors.
Inside the act, the patent office was allowed essentially to set fees to cover its costs. Previously, Congress collected the fees and diverted them elsewhere — a reported $1 billion went to unrelated government programs for two decades.
The funding has helped hire about 1,400 new patent examiners since 2011 and, in turn, dealt with a big issue at the time: patent backlog. When Obama signed the law, there were 680,000 patent applications waiting to be viewed by an examiner. Today, there are an estimated 561,585.
The key issue for inventors today, said Kocialski, is patent quality and making sure approved patents follow guidelines, are valid and can stand up in court.
“We understand what is going on in the marketplace in terms of litigation and, in some cases, litigation abuses,” Kocialski said, pointing to a new patent office effort called Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative . “We’re exploring the different ways that we can make the product we issue — patent issuance — more clear and have better quality to provide that notice and certainty for litigants as they go into and challenge IP rights.”
Companies that file a lot of patents are grateful for the local office. EchoStar Corp., in Douglas County, is one of Colorado’s leaders , having filed for 246 patents between 2010 and 2014.
“The Denver regional office of the USPTO has been positive for companies like EchoStar, since we can now conduct in-person discussions with examiners in the Denver office,” said Dean Manson, EchoStar’s executive vice president, general counsel and secretary. “This can lead to more productive examination of patent applications.”
Kocialski was born in Carlsbad, N.M. She remembers traveling to Denver as a member of her high school’s band to perform at Mile High Stadium. (Broncos fan? “Yes, it’s been a long time, but we also kind of hold the Buffalo Bills pretty close to our heart mainly because it’s character- building to be a Buffalo Bills fan. You learn to deal with disappointment.”)
She earned a chemical engineering degree from the University of New Mexico in 1994 and then, influenced by an uncle who was a patent attorney, got a law degree in 1997 from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law.
Around 2000, she moved with her husband to Colorado and jumped right into the Rocky Mountain lifestyle at Sheridan Ross, one of Denver’s oldest intellectual property firms.
One of her first patents was for a product men in the office were reluctant to handle.
“For some reason, none of the males wanted to work on the bull-castration patent,” Kocialski said, with a laugh. “It was definitely patentable subject matter, and we did get a patent on it. But I always wondered, did that patent fall to me for a reason?”
She migrated to become an in-house attorney, working at First Data Corp., Qwest Communications and Oracle Corp., where she was senior patent counsel.
Oracle gave her the one rare chance to put her science degree to use.
“I used my chemical engineering degree while talking to engineers about how to produce magnetic tape,” she said. “That was awesome. I didn’t have to buy the ‘Dummies’ book.”
Now Kocialski, the mother of a 6-year-old boy, is pushing patent education at all levels, from kids to entrepreneurs. She expects the office to have a presence at all regional startup weeks. The agency also is working on weekly office hours in downtown Denver at The Commons on Champa, a public space offering resources to entrepreneurs.
USPTO has also partnered with Camp Invention to get children interested in inventing things. And Kocialski personally wants to get more local inventors featured on the patent office’s Inventor Collectible Card series, which are the size of baseball trading cards.
“This is a way to get kids excited about inventing and thinking outside the box,” she said. “The only one who has a Colorado connection is (Nikola) Tesla because, of course, he shut down the power grid in Colorado Springs when he was doing his experiments.”
Kocialski is also a supporter of having a diverse staff to make sure the office is reaching out to a diverse group of inventors.
“The thing the patent office has done really well is retain women and not only retain them but promote them,” Kocialski said. “We in the patent office believe we need every brain possible.”
Led by director Michelle Lee, who in 2015 became the first woman to become director, USPTO’s workforce is 35 percent female, and 31 percent of its leaders are women. About 27 percent of science and tech employees are female.
“Someone once said to me, you can’t be what you can’t see,” said Kocialski, who mixes science and patent geekery with her hobbies of cooking and shopping. “There’s someone who can be a hard-core patent geek as I am and still like dresses and girly things. I think it’s important for people to see it because then they may think they can be it.”
Tamara Chuang: email@example.com or visit dpo.st/tamara
Get to know molly kocialski
Hobbies: Reading, baking and cooking. “If you asked my husband, he would tell you shopping is my hobby. He and my son ski and snowboard. I spa,” she said.
Saw latest Star Wars during opening week? “Of course! Don’t get me started talking about Star Wars.”
Admirer of: Neil deGrasse Tyson. “I’ve been enjoying the Neil deGrasse Tyson/B.o.B flat-earth contest right now. He’s probably the one person I would fan girl over these days.”
Recommended reading : “Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights,” by Gary Klein; and “Road to Character,” by David Brooks.
Favorite Authors: “Anything by James Rollins because of how he manages to infuse science and tech,” and Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian” — “I completely geeked out on all the equations,” she said.
Patents held: Zero, though she’s written hundreds and managed tens of thousands. “I always viewed my role as being the interpreter for engineers. I was a good interpreter, I would not have been a good inventor.”Tags: Denver U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Molly Kocialski, USA IP