David Kappos believes that addressing many of the world’s most daunting problems can be condensed to a single word: Innovation.
“Innovation is where the action is,” he explains. “It’s the most important human activity for education and industry, for our country and the entire world. Innovation creates opportunity, jobs, great new products and services, better health care outcomes and much more. It will solve the world’s most daunting challenges, from climate change to reliable supplies of food and water.”
No surprise, then, that Kappos — a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, and widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost leaders in the field of intellectual property law — has become so impressed by the UC Davis Engineering Student Startup Center (ESSC). His admiration has taken a more tangible form; Kappos and his wife, Leslie Kimball, have presented the ESSC with its first major funding endowment: an annual financial gift that Kappos plans to continue for at least five years, and perhaps well beyond.
“It’s important to support this progressive, very 21st century facility with its mission to champion student entrepreneurs,” Kappos insists, “and to help them become, early in their careers, knowledgeable and participative in the innovation economy, turning great engineering ideas into marketplace outcomes.
“I believe in giving back, and in the importance of investing in future generations. I also appreciate the great education I received at UC Davis.”
Kappos recalls long, late nights in Bainer Hall … and elsewhere. “But at the end of each quarter, to get away a bit, I’d bicycle out and study in the Veterinary School library. It was quiet, and facilitated the concentration needed during finals.
Kappos graduated summa cum laude in 1983, immediately securing a job as a development engineer at IBM. He then became fascinated by intellectual property law, recognizing its crucial role in the transition of university-based innovation to the marketplace. He realized, as well, that IP law played to his own communication skills.
He subsequently earned a law degree from UC Berkeley in 1990; at the same time, he rose through the ranks at IBM, eventually becoming Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for intellectual property law. In that capacity, he managed the company’s global intellectual property activities, including all aspects of patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret protection.
Even greater responsibilities awaited. In 2009, Kappos became President Obama’s Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. During his three and a half-year government service, Kappos was instrumental in achieving the greatest legislative reform of the U.S. patent system in generations: the passage and implementation of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), signed into law by the President in September 2011.
“The idea was to foster American jobs, opportunity and leadership, by better incentivizing invention through a supercharged U.S. patent system, thereby encouraging smart people to choose the hard path of innovation, by becoming engineers. Then those engineers will create the next set of great ideas, and bring them to market.
“The goal is to match innovators with people who possess the financial resources to turn great ideas into marketplace outcomes. AIA helped make such financial investments more attractive to potential backers.”
And that, in Kappos’ mind, makes UC Davis and its ESSC the best possible investment.
“Training the next generation of engineers is critical for our country. UC Davis has a tremendous history of investing in technologies that have proven very important: crop sciences, water-related issues, alternative energy and many more. It’s important for young people, in high school and college, to understand that they are, and can be, innovative and creative. That they can create important things—that their ideas can improve the world.
“The Engineering Student Startup Center is central to delivering that promise to every UC Davis engineering student. The fact that UC Davis has this resource — to train young people in the art and science of innovation — is wonderful, and worthy of our strong support.”
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