It is now common knowledge in the trademark community that Commissioner of Trademarks, Deborah Cohn, is retiring as of the end of this year. I felt compelled to write something about this event based on my long association with Debbie at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
I have known Deborah Cohn for about 30 years. That constitutes almost our entire career spans at the USPTO. Debbie came to the office only a year or so after I did. I first met her when I became Lead Attorney (now known as Senior Attorney) for one of the Law Offices at the USPTO as it was known then. She was an Examining Attorney in that Office. Even then, I could see that she was a dedicated and skilled attorney who was serious about her work but always had a personality sparkle that kept her from being a stereotypical “bureaucrat.” Our careers in the USPTO went in different directions after that, but our paths crisscrossed at many times and in many ways. Debbie went on to become a Senior and then Managing Attorney of another of the Law Offices. I, eventually, became the Administrator for Trademark Identification Classification and Practice in the Office of the Commissioner for Trademarks and served in that position from 1989 until my retirement in 2011. In that capacity, I served under five Commissioners before Debbie took over the position in 2010 after having served as Deputy Commissioner for five years.
Throughout our careers, we have worked closely on various projects and seen great changes take place at the USPTO. Over those years, I have seen Debbie function in many roles and under a variety of circumstances. However, no matter what role or what circumstance in which Debbie finds herself, there are constants in her demeanor and approach. Her sense of fairness and integrity are on a high level, to which many can only aspire. Her level-headedness has served her well in all of the managerial positions she has filled. Her strengths were never better utilized by the USPTO than when she sat in the Commissioner’s chair. Her personal charm has won the USPTO friends around the world. Her pragmatic approach has enabled her to steer the USPTO through government shut-downs and other crises successfully.
In short, the USPTO and the external trademark community will miss Debbie as Commissioner of Trademarks. I’m sure a competent and qualified replacement will be found. But Debbie’s retirement must still be counted as a loss. However, having been retired for almost four years myself, I can only wish her great joy, relaxation, and, yes, new challenges in her retirement. I know she will not simply “stop”. She is incapable of that. I hope her energy, experience, and intelligence will serve the trademark community in new ways if she chooses to continue in our field. If she chooses to pursue other directions in her life, that sphere will be enhanced by her participation. It is with great mixed emotion I write this. Saddened by her departure and the void she will leave at the USPTO but glad that she will have the freedom to choose her future path in whatever direction that path may lead.
Jessie N. Roberts