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Protecting Innovation with Director Vidal

Season 3 Episode 4

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Episode 4 in Season 3 of the Cipher Vision Podcast series features Director Kathi Vidal, Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)  and Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.

She joined us to share her thoughts on how we can improve the innovation ecosystem, from increasing inclusivity and adopting a collaborative approach, to taking full advantage of AI and data to enhance efficiency and drive positive change.

She chats to the hosts of the Cipher Vision podcast, who are:

If you would like to learn more about how Director Kathi Vidal has been bringing innovation to impact, see here:

Read the Director’s Blog

Director Vidal provides an update on her term so far as Director of the USPTO

Conversation Highlights

Key priorities for change and improvement in the USPTO

I want to make sure that the USPTO runs as a best-in-class agency, as a best-in-class organisation. 

So, a lot of it is hearing from those who are on the ground, who are doing patent prosecution, trademark registration on a daily basis, to hear from them on how we could be doing better.

Just to give you an example, within our patent prosecution group, it turned out that our process for routing and classifying patents meant that patent examiners weren’t necessarily getting the patent that was most aligned with their background, and that it took work for them to then transition that to somebody else. 

So, it was all the little things like that we were trying to solve for, to make sure that our work product was excellent, that our processes were excellent and that we were producing a great work product and creating a great atmosphere for everybody to work in. 

How can we improve diversity in the innovator’s community? 

That is something that we’re working on not just at the USPTO but across US Government. 

So, if you follow the work that we do on our Council for Inclusive Innovation, I sit as a Vice Chair of NACIE, The National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, that is a key tenant of all of that, we certainly want more innovation, we want to bring more innovation to impact which you can only really do through protecting your intellectual property.

And what I would say on the equity and inclusion part of it is, the only way all of our countries are going to be able to thrive is if we don’t leave anybody on the bench. So, I don’t see that as the end goal. If you think about Maslow’s pyramid of needs, it’s not the cherry on top, it’s not the top triangle, it is the base. 

On what initiatives are increasing inclusivity

Last year, we trained 280,000 children in the country. We need to do much more. So part of what we’re doing is where we have a programme that’s working like that, like our Teach The Teacher programme, like the work in our universities, like our pro-bono programmes, where we get out and meet people where they are, like our training programmes, like our resource centers across the country.

We are working this year in 2023, to scale that work, to reach out to every single school in the country, to reach out to every state, to make sure that the great work that we’re doing is scaled and really ramped up. So, we get a lot more benefit from it.

And then beyond that, we’re working on creative programmes. So, we just released a first time filer pilot program for patents, where if you’re new to the system, we’re going to help you get feedback more quickly, so you can get funding and you can bring your innovation to impact.

Right now, the percent of US women inventors on our patents is about 12 to 13%. Now, when we get out through our pro-bono programmes, and meet people where they are, that jumps to 43%. 

Does patent eligibility fuel the economy?

It’s the gatekeeper for it.

Because technology innovation, if you’re not able to protect that with intellectual property, it’s very difficult to get investment. It’s very difficult to bring your ideas to the marketplace. 

Director Vidal on improving diversity in the innovation community

How does the USPTO adopt AI to increase efficiency?

We are doing a lot across-government when it comes to AI. When it comes to within the organisation [USPTO] itself, we are looking for any solution where we can do better.

And you mentioned classification. That is a huge area where without an AI classification system, it would help us route applications to the right examiner, it’s very difficult to figure out how to route these applications. 

Technologies are converging, so, you no longer have clear boundaries between technologies. And so, you really need to have an algorithm that’s smarter than what we’ve had in the past, so we absolutely use AI in that regard. 

Are AI or machine learning a threat to jobs?

I don’t see an overall concern with it. I think it’s more about finding out how we can use AI as a tool to be quicker with problem-solving, maybe we can come up with solutions to the world’s problems much more quickly with that as a tool.

I would say that as with anything new, it’s a challenge to make sure that we understand the metes and bounds of how it might interplay with the IP ecosystem. And so for that reason, we developed an AI/ET working group, ET being Emerging Technologies, we just issued a request for comment on February 14, to get more information from the public on their ideas on how we contend with AI.

Taking a global view on patents

We just had a recent three-day meeting around women in IP. And we had I think, somewhere between 28 to 30 nations fly in for this. Nations in Africa and Europe and Asia, Canada was there. And we’re all trying to solve for the same thing. So, I think that is fantastic. 

The other thing we’re all trying to solve for is we’ve all converged around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs. Those are all the laudable goals of everything that we would like to see happen, whether it’s from climate, to inclusion, to all of the things that people want to solve for. So, big picture, I feel like we have more in common than we have that’s different. 

We can’t be asleep at the wheel, we need to be as aggressive as we can in terms of making sure that in all of our countries, that we are ever mindful of the ways that we can create and incentivise innovation in our countries, make sure we’re protecting it and make sure that it’s a balanced world out there when it comes to trade.

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On the IP Five Global Assignment Initiative

This is both about transparency and about reducing barriers. 

So, to the extent that there is a license where we can be more transparent about it across the different countries, that is critical. 

The idea that you can file something on more of a global registry as opposed to having to file in every country. It’s going to save a lot of money, even for the big companies, they’ve asked for it. When it comes to the smaller companies, it becomes extremely burdensome if you have to deal with every country individually. 

Transparency from PTAB trials

A lot of times I know data is used to incentivise change. Sometimes people use data to lobby. 

And I want to make sure that to the extent we have data that we are putting it out there, because we want to make data based decisions, but we want those data based decisions to be made on actual data and the full picture of the data. 

So that’s part of the reason why we’ve been trying to get the data out there on the PTAB. 

On what does the future hold?

What we’ve done so far is to lay a base for the work that’s to come. 

We’ve heard from stakeholders, externally, internally, we’ve developed the collaborations with public/ private partnerships with other government agencies, and the rest of the time, whatever that time may be, and especially in 2023, we’re now positioned to take things across the finish line, to engage in rulemaking, to change some of our policies and practices, to better assist Congress in terms of legislation that’s coming up. 

Director Vidal’s Key Takeaway

Please watch our channels and look at what we’re doing and find out how you can contribute. Because we are working across countries, we’re working with our allies, and we have open channels of communication.

I have an email that people can access from our website where they can email me directly, they can engage when we put out our initiatives, we ask requests for comment, would love comments on the work that we’re doing so we can do even better. 

And beyond that, with every initiative, there’s always an email or a way to engage to provide input. So, to me, this is the time we are all like-minded on what we’re trying to accomplish. And this is the time we can really get real work done. And so, I would encourage everybody to engage on that.

Nigel’s Key Takeaway

Protecting innovation lies at the heart of all intellectual property policy. And it’s hugely reassuring to hear from Director Vidal. This was her express intention when taking on the role and to see the progress made in the first year. 

What also needs to be appreciated is just how important intellectual property is at a national, international, and geopolitical level. And the task of maintaining a level playing field at a time of conflict, recession, pandemic to name just a few bumps in the road, means that we need to rely even more on policymakers to have a broad and proactive perspective. 

Thank you Director Vidal, for sharing your views and we wish you every success with the remainder of your term in office. 

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