New Patent Office Director Will be Important Link for Tech Transfer
Mike Waring, AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

As it returned from the holiday recess, on January 13 the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Kathi Vidal as the next Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). That nomination now goes to the full Senate, where a vote on final confirmation could come soon. Absent some major negative revelation, Vidal should be the next Director with all that means for patent holders and the public at-large.
The important role that USPTO plays in the innovation ecosystem cannot be overstated. In the tech transfer business where patent protections are the key to obtaining financial support for new inventions and discoveries, the PTO can “make or break” that process. Small inventors and universities need to know that their licensed discoveries can be developed into new therapies, new drugs and cutting-edge technologies with confidence. Having uncertainty about a patent’s value can only make the movement of those discoveries from lab to marketplace even more risky. 
Under the direction of PTO’s most recent Director, Andrei Iancu, the agency made substantive progress in numerous areas. Thanks to Iancu’s leadership, improvements were made to the inter partes review process that make it fairer for patent holders. Iancu also issued guidance to patent examiners to try and push back against the clouded view of patent eligibility caused by recent bad court decisions. These were important steps forward, and hopefully the new Director will maintain that progress. Indeed, in a speech supporting Vidal’s nomination, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said he was voting for her in part because she had assured him that she would continue those reforms once in office.
Assuming Vidal is indeed confirmed by the full Senate, AUTM will be joining sister organizations such as AAU, APLU and COGR in requesting an early meeting with the new Director. Such meetings have been held in the past with Iancu and his predecessors. In the case of Iancu, that introduction led to a terrific working relationship between the higher education community and the PTO. We hope to replicate that level of communication once Vidal takes over the agency.
It should also be noted that the PTO Director plays a role in the view of all intellectual property, so how Vidal views copyright will also be important for universities.
When a new administration takes over, there are many politically appointed positions that must be filled. AUTM looks forward to working with Vidal to make sure that PTO continues to be a progressive agency that will make innovation easier and thus provide a boost to the inventive energy that America needs to remain an economic, national security and health care leader around the world.