Aaron Cooper did not anticipate spending eight years on Capitol Hill when he graduated from law school in 2000. After clerking for Judge Gerald Tjoflat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Cooper moved to Washington to join Covington & Burling. Much of his work there involved telecommunications policy issues, which piqued his interest in working on the Hill as a policy adviser. In 2005, Cooper learned of an opening on the staff of Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, and he jumped at the chance. “Senator Sarbanes had already announced he was going to retire, but it was still an exciting time to join him,” he said.
Before Sarbanes’ final Senate term ended, Cooper accepted a staff position with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont that seemed tailor-made for him. Leahy, then the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, needed a staff member who could support his work on intellectual property and antitrust issues who also had expertise with the telecommunications industry.
Over the next seven years, Cooper served on Leahy’s staff, as lead counsel on 12 full judiciary committee hearings and as the lead counsel working on legislation to reform the U.S. patent system and strengthen intellectual property protections. Named Leahy’s chief counsel for intellectual property and antitrust in early 2011, Cooper worked closely with the senator to develop policy objectives and coordinate with industry representatives and other policymakers to gain consensus on reform legislation. Cooper is particularly proud of the important role he played in drafting and securing passage of the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. “America Invents was the biggest change to the patent law in 60 years,” he said. “The process took about six years of hard negotiating among different industries and working very closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.”
Cooper notes that garnering bipartisan support for the America Invents Act was not as difficult as building support for a hot-button topic such as immigration reform. “There was so much interest in reforming patent laws because of the fast pace of innovation, and many of the issues we dealt with in this legislation weren’t political,” he explained. Rapid advances in technology had rendered the existing patent review and application process outdated, and too many patents had been granted for ideas or concepts that were not true inventions. “If you have a true invention, you deserve a patent,” Cooper explained. “If you did something sort of clever that falls short of an invention, you don’t. With this patent bill, Senator Leahy was trying to create a structure where the patent office could do the rigorous review required to identify true inventions and award high-quality patents faster, and also give everyone the ability to challenge low-quality patents that can stifle innovation. Congress reformed the system for patent applications going forward, but patents last for 20 years. We also needed to ensure that low-quality patents granted before the reform legislation could be challenged.”
Cooper also helped draft the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act and the Theft of Trade Secrets Clarification Act, which both passed in 2012, and the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enforcement and Reform Act of 2009. He left Senator Leahy’s staff in December 2013 to rejoin Covington & Burling. “I had a great experience working for Senator Leahy, but eight years on the Hill is a long time, and I’m eager to work in private practice,” he said. “I’ve loved working on intellectual property issues because IP impacts every business in different ways. It’s really important for businesses to understand how the law is evolving and create policies and strategies to impact how the law is going to change rather than just reacting to the change.”