Remembering Q. Todd Dickinson, LGBTQ activist and patent law leader

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According to friends and colleagues alike, Q. Todd Dickinson was a joyous, hard-working and passionate man, devoted to those he loved and to his work.

Michael Marsico said Dickinson was “a dear friend and a fearless and tireless advocate for the LGBT community.”

Dickinson died suddenly May 3, 2020, of respiratory failure, leaving his spouse, Robert H. Atkins, whom he married in 2017 after a decade as partners. He was 67.

A native Philadelphian, Dickinson had a B.S. in Chemistry from Allegheny College and a J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. The focus of his work for nearly four decades was intellectual property. He was a member of the Bars of Pennsylvania, California and Illinois, and was registered to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Dickinson began his legal career as a patent and trademark lawyer. He worked for several major corporations, including Chevron and Sun in Illinois, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

During his decade in San Francisco, from 1980 through 1990, Dickinson became involved in LGBT causes. He was a founding board member of the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF) and served on the National Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign Fund (now the Human Rights Campaign or HRC), co-chairing the 1985 San Francisco HRCF dinner. He was also appointed by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein to be the city’s parking commissioner.

Marsico said that Dickinson “was an extremely curious individual, which only fed his formidable intellectual prowess. He could stop any discussion and point out a wondrously poignant observation.”

He added that “Todd had little hesitation about going anywhere at any time regardless of the country or situation as an openly gay man.”

In 1990 Dickinson moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he served as chief counsel for I.P. and Technology for Sun Company, Inc. (Sunoco) and later as counsel with the law firm Dechert Price & Rhoads. In Philadelphia, he was again active in numerous political, civic and professional organizations, including the Liberty City Democratic Club, the Pride of Philadelphia Election Committee and the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (now the LGBTQ Bar Association). He was also a founding Master with the Benjamin Franklin Inn of Court for I.P. law in Philadelphia and advised the SAE chapter at the University of Pennsylvania.

Marsico noted that Dickinson was always aware when LGBTQ people were elided from political and social functions. He recounted a time at the 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles when Dickinson joined him at the Pennsylvania Democratic Delegation breakfasts and became agitated that there were no LGBT speakers. “By the last breakfast, Todd was invited to the podium and enthralled the delegation by explaining the need to recognize the LGBT vote and community and its accomplishments.”

Daniel J. Anders, a judge of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and a longtime friend and colleague of Dickinson, described him as “a smart, funny and loving gay man with a sharp wit. He had a positive and lasting impact on everything that he touched. He was a tireless supporter and activist in the LGBTQ political and legal communities in Philadelphia and San Francisco.”

In 1998, Dickinson was appointed by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Deputy Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. He was appointed and confirmed as Assistant Secretary and Commissioner in 1999. In 2000, Dickinson became the first undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“Todd was immensely knowledgeable and influential in the intellectual property community. He was a warm person and a great friend to many,” said Andrei Iancu, current director of the office, in a statement.

Anders said, “Todd left his mark on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by modernizing the office, including creating an electronic filing system where patents could be e-filed as well as searched by the public. I was struck by the outpouring of legal giants in the intellectual property field who complimented his sage advice and strategic thinking.”

In 2008, Dickinson became executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association in Washington, D.C.

According to colleagues, Dickinson was “A passionate advocate for intellectual property law and the power of patents to spur innovation.” At the time of his death, he served on the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Board of Visitors, the George Washington University School of Law Advisory Board on Intellectual Property and the Board of Directors of the Patent Trial and Appeals Board Bar Association, on which he’d served since its founding in 2016. During his time in Washington, D.C., he was an active Master with the Giles Sutherland Rich Inn of Court for I.P. Law. Among his many honors were his induction to the Intellectual Property Hall of Fame in 2012 and the naming in his honor of the Q. Todd Dickinson Inn of Court for I.P. Law in Pittsburgh, also in 2012.

Marsico said, “His mind was undoubtedly the sharpest and quickest that I ever witnessed or enjoyed. I and many others will miss him very dearly.”

In addition to his husband, Dickinson is survived by his brother, John D. Dickinson. He is predeceased by his parents, John and Martha Dickinson.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a memorial service has yet to be scheduled.

Contributions to honor Todd’s life may be made to the G.W. Law Intellectual Property Program online at www.law.gwu.edu/giving or by mail at P.O. Box 98131, Washington, DC 20077-9756; the School of Law at the University of Pittsburgh, 128 N. Craig Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15260; the BALIF Bar Association online at https://www.balif.org/donate, or by mail with checks made out to BALIF at P.O. Box 193383; San Francisco, CA 94119; and the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association online at https://www.philalgbtqbar.org/.