Obama to tap Harvard colleague to head FTC

By Mark Felsenthal and Diane Bartz ,Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama intends to name Edith Ramirez, once a colleague of his at the Harvard Law Review, as chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a White House official said on Thursday. Ramirez has been an FTC commissioner since April 2010. She was a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in business litigation and intellectual property before joining the commission. Ramirez, who graduated from Harvard Law School a year after the president, was the editor of the Law Review at the time Obama was its first black president, according to the school. Ramirez went on to be Obama’s director of Latino Outreach in California in 2008. As a commissioner, Ramirez does not require Senate confirmation.

She will replace Jon Leibowitz at the head of the agency, which works to protect consumers from unfair business practices and maintain competition in the marketplace. Leibowitz’s departure leaves two Democrats and two Republicans on the commission, which at full strength has five members. In the case of a 2-2 vote, no action is taken. There has been no word so far on a nominee for the open spot. The agency has been focusing recently on intellectual property issues, including the problem of companies with patent portfolios filing frivolous infringement lawsuits.

“Ramirez brings a wealth of IP litigation experience which will help guide the FTC at a time where we need much stronger antitrust enforcement,” said David Balto, a former FTC policy director now in private practice. The agency also has been working on online privacy issues, which pits companies against consumers. “We have found her to display unique insights on issues critical to consumer welfare and competition,” Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said of Ramirez. “Under her leadership, we expect the FTC to blaze new ground on privacy — especially involving mobile devices, digital data brokers and Do Not Track” — the commission’s campaign to allow consumers to opt out of being tracked online through mobile devices.

Under Leibowitz, the commission handled high-profile antitrust cases against Intel Corp. and Google Inc.

In her law career, Ramirez represented corporations like Mattel Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp.