24 November 2021Muireann Bolger

Kathi Vidal nominated as USPTO director

President Joe Biden has nominated Katherine (Kathi) Vidal, the head of  Winston & Strawn’s Silicon Valley office, as the next director of the  US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Nationally recognised for leading high-profile patent disputes, her experience covers complex technologies from semiconductors and software to medical devices and consumer products.

During her career, Vidal has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in US district courts, the  US International Trade Commission, and at the USPTO.

Her experience includes arguing the landmark SAP v InvestPic (2018), a case that concerned patent eligibility, at the  US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

She has also advised on IP policies for standard-setting organisations, trademark and copyright matters, and on strategies for worldwide patent disputes including national security, policy and related issues.

A recognised thought leader on issues confronting the legal profession and IP law, Vidal has been active in the  Sedona Conference, the  Leahy Institute of Advanced Patent Studies, and the  Federal Judicial Conference. She has also acquired fellowships at the Federal Circuit Bar Association and the Litigation Counsel of America, a trial lawyer honorary society.

Known as a leader in diversity and women’s issues, Vidal is one of four law firm advisory board members for  ChIPs, a non-profit organisation committed to advancing women at the intersection of law, technology, and regulatory policy.

She founded the Next Gen initiative and advocates for training and opportunities for junior lawyers. She is also a member of Winston & Strawn’s executive committee on diversity.

Lawyers welcomed the announcement of an incoming permanent director, after  Arthrex v US handed  greater power to the USPTO director in June, and the unofficial nature of the office’s acting leader Drew Hirshfeld  drew concerns.

Commenting on Vidal's D&I record, Susan Natland, vice chair of the USPTO trademark public advisory committee and partner at Knobbe Martens, said: "We are looking forward to Director Vidal’s positive impact on IP diversity, especially for female and minority inventor-patentees.  We need all hands on deck to keep and maintain our edge in innovation worldwide.  The more we welcome women and diverse inventor-patentees in the IP ecosphere, the more likely the US will keep its place as the leader of innovation worldwide.”

Nicholas Matich, principal at  McKool Smith, said: “It’s exciting to see the president nominate someone to the post. The USPTO has been in good hands with Drew Hirschfeld in charge, but it’s good for the agency to have a permanent head. Congress’ passage of the America Invents Act increased the amount of influence the agency has over the patent system, and the recent Arthrex decision has put even more authority in the hands of the director.”

Phil Harris, partner at  Holland & Hart, said: “Vidal is a great candidate with a proven record and experience in IP. She has robust litigation experience with multiple highly regarded firms, including serving on management committees, as well as a diverse professional background in law and technology. Her experience and focus on diversity in the law will likely continue, and hopefully benefit, various initiatives at the USPTO.”

Mark Simpson, partner at  Saul Ewing also welcomed the announcement. “I’m encouraged to see that President Biden nominated a woman and that she has extensive, practical, in-the-trenches experience with all aspects of IP. I am particularly pleased to see that she also has intimate knowledge of the subject matter eligibility issues that arise in these fields on a daily basis. My belief and hope is that she will drive the development of much needed clarity in this regard.

Before joining Winston & Strawn, Vidal was the litigation chair at Fish & Richardson, and sat on the firm’s management committee.

She also practised in industry for five years, gaining experience at General Electric and Lockheed Martin in circuit, systems, software and artificial intelligence.

She received her Bachelors and Masters in electrical engineering and has completed the GE Edison Engineering three-year leadership programme.

Vidal replaces Andrei Iancu who  left the role in January.

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