IP Stakeholders Cheer as Senate Finally Confirms Vidal to Head USPTO

Kathi Vidal

Kathi Vidal

The U.S. Senate confirmed Kathi Vidal as the next U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director Tuesday night in a voice vote. Vidal’s confirmation comes after more than one year with no Senate-confirmed Director or Acting Director at the agency. Drew Hirshfeld has been operating under the title of “Performing the Duties and Functions of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO” since January 2021.

When IPWatchdog first heard today from sources at the LeadershIP 2022 Conference in Washington, DC that Vidal might be confirmed, the overwhelming sentiment was, “It’s about time.” Hirshfeld’s “Performing” title has resulted in questions and court challenges about his statutory ability to legitimately lead the Office with that designation, including a current challenge by Arthrex, Inc., which could now be moot.

Vidal is managing partner at Winston & Strawn’s Silicon Valley Office, where she has been since 2017, and served with Fish & Richardson for 20 years before that as Global Head of Litigation and on the firm’s Management Committee. She was part of the team that represented The Chamberlain Group in its fight at the Federal Circuit and subsequent petition to the Supreme Court to get its patent for a garage door opener recognized as patent eligible. She also argued and won the SAP America, Inc. v. InvestPic case for SAP at the Federal Circuit, in which the court held that InvestPic’s patent claims at issue were patent ineligible as abstract because “[t]heir subject is nothing but a series of mathematical calculations based on selected information and the presentation of the results of those calculations.” Thus, her positions as an attorney while advocating for clients are on both sides of the patent eligibility issue.

Vidal was recommended as a potential candidate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit by Judge Paul Michel. Her background is in mathematical physics and programming, and she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. She worked for five years as a systems and software design engineer with General Electric, graduated from the Edison Engineering Program there, and “designed one of the first leading-edge expert systems (neural networks, fuzzy logic, expert systems) for fault diagnostics in aircraft.” She also has a strong record on diversity issues.

While most IP stakeholders agree Vidal is a strong and capable candidate, some have expressed concern about her ties to Silicon Valley.

In a statement sent to IPWatchdog Tuesday, former USPTO Director Andrei Iancu wholeheartedly welcomed the confirmation:

Congratulations Kathi Vidal on your confirmation! The USPTO is in excellent hands with you in the lead. Your new colleagues are extremely knowledgeable and dedicated public servants who work relentlessly to ensure that our crown jewel intellectual property system continues to be the world’s gold standard. I wish you much success as you join them in that effort.

The Innovation Alliance also applauded the U.S. Senate on the vote:

As a leading patent attorney and intellectual property expert, Ms. Vidal brings the kind of experience we need at the USPTO. We also believe she has the leadership qualities required to be a successful, even-handed USPTO Director. We are encouraged by her commitment to work with all stakeholders in the patent system to advance U.S. innovation, as well as her commitment to examine ‘potential abuses of the IPR process’ and to work with Congress to assess ‘whether further reform is necessary.’ We look forward to working with her to ensure our nation’s patent system continues to serve as a driving force for our economy, supporting American innovation, job creation and global competitiveness.

IPWatchdog will publish more on what Vidal’s confirmation means for the current and future IP landscape in the coming days and weeks.


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Join the Discussion

6 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for concerned]
    April 8, 2022 07:29 am

    There is some intregity at the USPTO. My first examiner did say I should get the patent in a phone interview, however, the higher ups were blocking it. So the USPTO switched examiners.

    My common folk friends say it is beyond their mere comprehension that I could meet the law as written by Congress and that I solved a long term problem, both conceded by the USPTO and their groupies, and that I am still fighting for my patent. A mountain of evidence does not count either.

    Most of the time I do not even tell my friends words were added to the law by judges, then everyone refuses to define inventive concept or significantly more. I do not want my friends to think this is some communist country prosecuting my application.

  • [Avatar for Josh Malone]
    Josh Malone
    April 6, 2022 04:40 pm

    700 inventors are not cheering. But inventors are not stakeholders in the U.S. patent system. https://usinventor.org/wp-content/uploads/Kathi-Vidal-Letter-from-Inventors.pdf

  • [Avatar for Pro Se]
    Pro Se
    April 6, 2022 02:38 pm

    “Stakeholders” = All anti-patent interests. It amazes my on how the “Stakeholder” nickname went from actual patentees to a group of lawyers who horde the USPTO from real engineers and product builders.

  • [Avatar for Josh Malone]
    Josh Malone
    April 6, 2022 02:07 pm

    John White why do you think she should sit down with more lawyers? They all like this mess!

  • [Avatar for Pro Say]
    Pro Say
    April 6, 2022 11:29 am

    You’ll forgive us 1,000’s of independent American inventors and innovative small companies for holding off on any cheering if and until we see whether or not she follows Andrei’s innovation-supporting but Big Tech-hating policies and initiatives; including bringing the Death Squad PTAB to heal.

    Including by respecting the patent allowance decisions of their Examiner colleagues.

    As John says below, there should be no more than 100 or so trial institutions / year.

    Until then: Cautious optimism.

    Cautious optimism only.

  • [Avatar for John White]
    John White
    April 6, 2022 08:15 am

    Good! Now, my advice would be to sit down with Andrew and Andrei and David and Bob and figure out how the place runs, and set about doing whatever has been put-off, and marvel at what the PTO does and can do. And, when appropriate….dismiss the PTAB…., okay, keep a few, but only for the now 100 or so that will be instituted under new Director guidance. 😉