Obama picks Moorhead grad for key post in U.S. patent office

FARGO – A Moorhead High School graduate who served as a national co-chairman of Lawyers for Obama last year has been picked by the president to be chief of staff of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Andrew C. Byrnes is a partner at the global law firm Covington & Burling LLP in Redwood Shores, Calif. He has practiced intellectual property law in the Silicon Valley for the past 16 years, representing technology companies mostly in patent matters.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Byrnes said he enjoyed his time in the private sector, and while he never ruled out public service, he didn’t actively pursue it.

“Following the president’s re-election, I really began considering what more I could do to help serve him and the country, and when this opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to take it,” he said.

A native Californian, Byrnes was born in Los Angeles and moved with his family to Moorhead, Minn., when he was 11. He said he became interested in government and politics at an early age, recalling how in the summer of 1986 he dragged his junior high classmates to the campaign headquarters of now-U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to make campaign signs.

“I was not a typical junior high student in Moorhead, I’ll tell you that much,” he said, laughing.

At Moorhead High, Byrnes was involved in choir and theater. He graduated in 1990 and attended Stanford University in California, where he earned a degree in political science in 1994 and became interested in the law. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1997 and returned to California to practice law in the Silicon Valley, focusing on patent work for tech firms.

Byrnes also has represented candidates, political committees, corporations and nonprofit organizations in election and political law matters, Covington & Burling’s website states. He’s a past co-chairman of the California Democratic Party’s Finance Committee and past chairman of the San Mateo County Democratic Party.

Byrnes isn’t the first Covington & Burling partner to land a position with the Obama administration. The firm counted Eric Holder among its partners before Obama named him attorney general in 2009.

At a time when major technology players such as Apple, Samsung and Motorola wage legal war against each other in patent disputes, Byrnes said people are focused on intellectual property issues as essential to American business and growth. He said he’s excited to join the Obama administration because the president and his team “understand how important it is that we have an intellectual property system that promotes and doesn’t hinder innovation.”

Byrnes will begin his new job Sept. 3 at the patent office headquarters in Alexandria, Va., with the official title of chief of staff in the Office of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and director of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. He and his wife will keep their home in California and live on both coasts, he said.

Byrnes said he stays in touch with his Moorhead classmates via social media and still visits the Fargo-Moorhead area about once every five years. He was last here in March 2012 for the screening of a documentary film he produced, “The Power of Two,” during the Fargo Film Festival.

“I have tremendously fond memories of Moorhead and of Fargo-Moorhead and of the people there,” he said. “It really was a great place to grow up, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”




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