January 17 marks the first day in the tenure of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) new Commissioner for Patents, Vaishali Udupa. Udupa, whose appointment was announced in December, comes to the USPTO after serving the last seven years as the head of litigation for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, where she was responsible for heading HPE’s intellectual property litigation and formulating case strategies. She replaces Acting Commissioner for Patents Andrew Faile, who served in that role since January 2021 and who will be retiring from the agency after 33 years upon Udupa’s installation as commissioner. Well-known within the patent community as an advocate for diversity and representation issues, Udupa joins the USPTO as a relative outsider. She comes in as the first full Commissioner for Patents since the retirement of Drew Hirshfeld, who served with the agency for two decades before he was first appointed to Commissioner in 2015. Those familiar with recent Patent Office history will recall that Commissioners immediately preceding Hirshfeld included Bob Stoll, Peggy Focarino, John Doll and Nick Godici. Stoll, Focarino, Doll and Godici each served in various capacities at the Office, including in high-level policy and regulatory positions, for more than a generation prior to becoming Commissioner.
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Acting Deputy Director Drew Hirshfeld will step down from a nearly 30-year career with the Office on June 21, the USPTO announced today. Hirshfeld became Commissioner for Patents with the USPTO in 2015. He was appointed to a second five-year term in that role in July 2020. Before that, he served as Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy, and for two years as the USPTO Chief of Staff for David Kappos. He also served as a Supervisory Patent Examiner, as well as a Group Director of Technology Center 2100, overseeing Computer Networking and Database workgroups. Hirshfeld first joined the agency in 1994 as a patent examiner.
This morning, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross reappointed Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld for a second five-year term. Commissioner Hirshfeld’s original term was set to expire this month. Hirshfeld began his career with the USPTO in 1994 as a Patent Examiner, became a Supervisory Patent Examiner in 2001, and was promoted in 2008 to Group Director in Technology Center 2100 (Computer Architecture Software and Information Security).
This is the final segment of my interview with Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In this segment we get to know Hirshfeld personally, as a father and New York Knicks basketball fan.
Drew HIRSHFELD: ”One thing that really can move the ball toward a higher quality patent is again the clarity of the record, and the amount of information that’s in there so that third parties can really tell what the patent was about. So quality has, as you’ve identified before, many ways to look at it. But when I leave this position, whenever that time is, certainly if I can have a more clear record, more full explanations on the record, I think the system would be in a better place and that is one of my goals.”
HIRSHFELD: “[Y]ou caught my attention with quality means we issue a few patents. So let me address that first. We’ve always focused on quality as far as I’ve been here. What we have been asked to do in recent years is ask how can we take a more “out of the box” approach to quality, right? Is there anything that we could be doing with the goal of continuous improvement? And so to me that’s an absolutely wonderful position to be in for anybody asking how can you do your job better. And so I don’t look at quality as saying we want to issue more patents or less patents, we want to do a better job, a good job in the process as we’re moving forward. Things like clarity of the record. That does not mean we’re going to issue more or less, it means that we’re going to take extra steps to make sure we’re on the same page as the applicant. Or make sure we’re creating a good record so that a third party down the road can evaluate the application history, the prosecution history and tell exactly what took place. Certainly there is not a sentiment to try to reject more or less. Our goal is to do what the courts are asking us to do but we want to make sure that we’re thinking about all the ways we can do that in the most effective, efficient and clear way.”
Hirshfeld succeeds Margaret “Peggy” Focarino, who served at the USPTO for 38 years and retired in early July 2015. While there were many highly qualified applicants for the Office to consider, it seemed to me that Hirshfeld was the logical choice to become the next Commissioner. Hirshfeld has been a key member of the senior management team at the USPTO for years, and others on the senior management team with more experience are either retiring this summer (i.e. Bruce Kisiluk) or are likely close to retirement.
Since she first joined the USPTO as the newest examiner in 1977, Focarino has worked tirelessly in a variety of different roles, always as a public servant. Not only has she worked in the public sector doing whatever job has been asked of her on behalf of the patent system, but she has also worked to be accepted as an employee of the USPTO, and not merely a female employee of the USPTO. Today it almost sounds sexist to even refer to someone as “a female employee,” but that wasn’t always the case. There is no doubt that Focarino has been a trailblazer. As the first woman to become Acting Commissioner for Patents, the first woman to become Commissioner for Patents, and a member of the first all female leadership team in the history of the USPTO, Focarino has seen the agency change dramatically over the past four decades.
In January 2005, Focarino was promoted to Deputy Commissioner for Patent Operations, a role that made her responsible for all patent-examining functions in the eight Patent Technology Centers and all operational aspects of patent application initial examination, patent publications, and international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications processing. Upon the resignation of Jon Dudas from the USPTO in January 2009, then Commissioner for Patents John Doll rose from his post as Commissioner for Patents to become the Acting Director of the Patent Office. At this time Focarino was promoted to Acting Commissioner for Patents. Upon Director Kappos assuming control of the Patent Office, Focarino was retained on the senior management team, with the creation of a new position — Deputy Commissioner for Patents. Subsequently, after Commissioner Bob Stoll retired, Focarino was promoted, this time being appointed Commissioner for Patents.
Before profiling the top officials who will continue the work of the patent system, allow me also to pause and recognize a truly extraordinary moment in Patent Office History. The top three officials at the USPTO will all be women. Acting Director Teresa Rea, Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino and Commissioner for Trademarks Deborah Cohn will lead the Office forward steering America’s engine of innovation and commerce. If that doesn’t create a buzz of excitement even in Washington, DC, I don’t know what will! It is excitement well deserved and perhaps could lead to a higher profile for the USPTO, which would be very good for the patent system as a whole.
In this final installment, Bob Stoll and I discuss the United States Supreme Court. We spend some time talking about the Supreme Court’s recent patent eligible subject matter decisions. We also discuss the problem of bad patent applications contributing to bad law and slower, more inefficient patent prosecution. We also discuss inequitable conduct after Therasense and who might make a good addition to the Federal Circuit. Stoll says the name he keeps hearing is Todd Dickinson.
In part 1 of my interview with Stoll we discussed his adjusting to life in the private sector, the fact that he doesn’t enjoy the billable hour part of private practice (just like every other attorney I know) and we discussed politics a bit, as well as the U.S. economy and innovation policy. Part 2 of my interview, which appears below, picks up where we left off discussing Presidential politics and the buzz that engulfs D.C. every 4 years. We then move on to talk about how innovation drives the U.S. economy and I get his thoughts on why we haven’t seen a great new technology that has spawned an entirely new industry as we have coming out of so many recessions in the past. We then finish part 2 discussing changes to the patent examination process and how to streamline the examination process.
I tried to get Stoll on the record while he was at the USPTO. I don’t think he dodged me, it just never worked out. I travel a lot, he travels a lot and when it was convenient for one of us it was never convenient for the other. In the time I have known Bob we have become friends. I respect him enormously, his knowledge of all things patent is extraordinarily deep. I always enjoy getting together with him, it is always a lively conversation. So I am extremely happy to bring this on the record interview to you. In this conversation we talk life after the USPTO, politics, being on the famed K Street in Washington D.C., the U.S. economy, improvidently granted patents and much more. So without further ado, here is my interview with Bob Stoll.
In this final installment of my interview with Peggy Focarino, Commissioner for Patents, we discuss the examiner count system, production and Art Units and Patent Examiners that do not issue patents. What can the Office do about rogue Examiners and rogue Art Units? Does the Patent Office even understand this is a problem? Focarino was enormously candid, and it is clear to me that senior management at the USPTO know they have a problem and are working to create fixes.
In this installment we discuss a day in the life of the Commissioner for Patents, negotiating with the Examiner’s Union relative to the updated examiner count system and implementation of the America Invents Act. Stay tuned for part 3, the interview finale, which will publish on Friday, February 17, 2012. In part 3 we discuss the fact that certain examiners and certain Art Units seem to simply not issue patents. We also discuss the process for determining where the Patent Office will locate satellite Offices.