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INTA 2022: Vidal says ‘administration believes in strong IP’

USPTO director Kathi Vidal speaking at the 2022 INTA Annual meeting

Kathi Vidal, the USPTO’s new director, set out her vision for the office at the INTA Annual Meeting, including her desire to focus on pro-bono and inclusion

“As an administration, we believe in strong intellectual property rights, just to make it clear,” USPTO director Kathi Vidal said today, May 3, kicking off her session at the INTA Annual Meeting in Washington DC.

“On the patent side, there are some things we need to accomplish, such as getting drugs into the hands of people who need them. There’s a lot of things we need to do, but at the bottom of it, we believe in strong IP rights, whether those be trademarks, designs, et cetera.”

Vidal suggested it was important to make that point because of political speculation.

The USPTO director, who was confirmed by the Senate to her new position on April 5, went on to say that pro-bono was a priority for her administration. She noted that pro-bono programmes such as INTA’s clearinghouse project, in which counsel clear trademarks for SMEs, were very important.

Vidal added that the USPTO planned to scale up its own 21 programmes throughout the US.

“We need to make sure everyone has access to the IP system,” she said. “This is something we’re focused on at the USPTO – we want to incentivise more innovation for more people in underserved communities. We want to get more out of our communities and bring more innovation to the surface.”

Tackling TMs

Vidal also acknowledged the rise in trademark applications at the USPTO, which had led to a backlog of 534,000 unexamined classes, and talked about what the office had done or planned to do to address the situation.

“Please know, we’re doing what we can to address that,” she said. “We’ve just brought on an additional 32 examiners – they are the second class of examiners to go through the Trademark Academy.”

She added that the office was also busy implementing the Trademark Modernization Act (TMA), which she described as the most important change to US trademark law since the Madrid Protocol was introduced in 1996.

She said that as of April 29, the office had received 78 trademark challenges through the new TMA system.

Inclusion initiatives

The director said she also planned to focus on inclusion over the next few years, noting that the office had just introduced a new initiative.

“We haven’t announced this broadly, but some of you may know about it – it’s the Council for Inclusive Innovation. It’s a USPTO initiative that I vice-chair, because the chair is the secretary of commerce – that’s how important this initiative is to the administration.”

She said the department had brought in some of the country’s brightest minds to work out how to drive inclusive innovation in the US.

Q&A

At the end of the session, Vidal opened up the floor to questions. One came from a JPO representative, who asked what the director’s plans were for international IP co-operation.

“In terms of my vision for interaction with other IP offices, it’s really important that we learn from each other. I’ve got so many good ideas from folks at WIPO about collaborating and creating content.

“I believe very strongly that harmonisation and consistency is important too because it helps with access,” she added.  

Michael Moore, associate general counsel at Mattel in California, asked Vidal what she thought about the idea of combining the USPTO with the US Copyright Office, noting that Senator Thom Tillis had asked for a study to examine such a move.

She said it was a good idea to conduct the study. “It’s not that I think something is broken, but when it comes to our operations, my job is to dissect it and make sure we’re doing things right.”

The INTA Annual Meeting is being held this week at the Walter E Washington Convention Center in Washington DC.

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