In an unexpected move, David Kappos will step down as Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in January, after serving for four years. The news leaked earlier today on the PatentlyO blog, but a USPTO spokesperson has since confirmed the news to Bloomberg.

A former IBM attorney, Kappos was a well-liked and extremely well-respected Director who focused on nuts-and-bolts application of the law — he was tasked with implementing the America Invents Act after guiding it through passage in 2011, and he also increased the number of patent examiners to reduce the enormous backlog of patent applications and increase the quality of granted patents. He also set up a partnership with Stack Exchange to help crowdsource prior art identification and worked to build a relationship with the tech industry by opening Silicon Valley and NYC patent offices, a first in USPTO history.

"Broken? What?"

Perhaps more interestingly, Kappos gave a speech just six days ago called "An Examination of Software Patents" in which he asked critics to "move beyond the flippant rhetoric and instead engage in substantive discussion," noting that innovation in software and smartphones is happening at "breakneck pace." "Broken?" asked Kappos. "What?"

It's not clear at the moment who will step into Kappos' role, but we'll update this story as we learn more.