FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

Lobbyist Hopes Trump’s Dead Uncle Wins Him White House Favor

Signaling his intent to register on behalf of a group of inventors, Michael Caputo is only the latest from the president’s inner circle to transition to lobbying.

In a White House roiled by high-level staff turnover, there has been one constant: the presence and influence of President Donald Trump’s family. And some have figured out that invoking the family might be a good way of currying Trump’s favor.

Former senior Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo isn’t promising any benefits for Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, or other family members inside or close to the administration. But he and a client for which he plans to officially register as a lobbyist are hinting at a personal Trump family touch in their policy advocacy in an attempt to get the president on board.

That client is US Inventor, an Indiana-based nonprofit that pushes reform of the U.S. patent system. Caputo’s Zeppelin Communications has already been conducting public relations work for the group, and Caputo told The Daily Beast this week that he may officially register as a US Inventor lobbyist, making it his second lobbying client. He signed his first, a group of Hurricane Sandy victims seeking government restitution, earlier this month.

Caputo’s new lobbying practice seeks “clients who should or could benefit from the president’s policies,” he said in an interview. And when he does end up registering, he will be in a position to leverage his deep connections to the White House and the Trump administration. Caputo regularly speaks with high-level White House officials, though he insists that those discussions are purely social and have not yet entailed efforts to advance his clients’ interests.

That could change if he registers as US Inventor’s lobbyist. “They’re determining whether or not they want me to register,” Caputo said. “They’re considering whether I can add value.”

Paul Morinville, US Inventor’s president, seems to think he can. The group has previously conducted its own lobbying in-house. But with a vacancy atop the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office—its current director is serving on an acting basis after the abrupt resignation of its former chief in June—connections to and an understanding of Trump and his administration is crucial.

“The next director of the US Patent and Trademark Office will determine if the patent system will remain forever destroyed or the [sic] it will be brought back to what is was just a few years ago,” Morinville said in an email. “This is critical for US Inventor as an organization and for our members individually.”

Caputo is just the latest in a string of former Trump aides to ply their trade in Washington’s influence industry. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and adviser Barry Bennett co-founded their own lobbying firm in January. Lewandowski left the firm in May, but has continued working on behalf of companies looking to get in the administration’s good graces. Other former Trump aides have since registered as lobbyists for foreign governments.

Caputo insists that it’s his expertise in the subject matter—he has been involved in patent litigation since 2000—that made his services appealing to US Inventor. “They didn’t hire me because I know the President,” he told The Daily Beast in an email. “They hired me because I know their issues well and understand what’s at stake.”

But Morinville, who hopes to make the USPTO more friendly to patent-holders, said he feels Caputo could be effective in getting the Trump administration on board.

“Mr. Caputo has a unique perspective on this new administration and it’s important for us to get a feel for The President’s commitment to innovation,” Morinville said in an email.

It may be that unique perspective that brought both Morinville and Caputo to independently invoke the name of the same Trump family member. The president should be amenable to US Inventor’s policy goals due to the experience of the late Uncle John Trump, they said.

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The brother of Trump’s father Fred, John Trump was an accomplished engineer and physicist, an MIT professor, and an early pioneer of X-ray and radar technologies, helping to produce the latter for the U.S. military during World War II. He also held dozens of patents for his inventions.

“We believe Uncle John Trump is a kindred spirit—an inventor whose patents helped him create jobs and make the world a better place. And we hope The President agrees,” Morinville said.

Caputo too invoked Uncle John, suggesting invocations of his name could be integral to his efforts to get the president on board with proposed policy or administrative changes at USPTO.

US Inventor has feuded with USPTO of late over the high rate of patent invalidation by the agency’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. The group recently held a demonstration outside USPTO’s Washington headquarters, where members burned patents in protest.

Trump’s two predecessors “basically pulled all the teeth out of patents. Today patents are worthless,” Caputo said. Under today’s patent regime, “Uncle John would be penniless.”