by Dennis Crouch
For most of US history, the Commissioner of Patents was appointed by the President and led the USPTO. Things shifted in the 1990s with the creation of Director and Deputy-Director positions at the top. But, the Commissioner remains vitally important and manages a workforce and throughput that is larger than ever. Earlier in 2022, Commissioner Drew Hirshfeld stepped down after a long USPTO career (joining the Schwegman law firm). His immediate replacement, Andrew Faile, has been acting Commissioner, but Andy is also retiring after a really successful USPTO career. Now, Dir. Kathi Vidal has announced their replacement — Vaishali Udupa. Ms. Udupa has been working in patents since she graduated from American Univ Law in 2000: First at Pennie & Edmonds before its breakup; then at Jones Day for a decade as a patent litigator; and finally at Hewlett Packard for the past decade as Associate General Counsel for litigation. Like Dirs. Vidal and Lee, Udupa is a longtime member of ChIPs. Throughout her career, Udupa has stayed primarily in the Washington DC area.
The law calls for the Secretary of Commerce to appoint a Commissioner who is (1) a “United States [citizen] with demonstrated management ability and professional background and experience in patent law.” Although politics are involved in the appointment of a Commissioner, this is a real job of day-to-day management of an intellectual production line involving 10,000+ patents employees. It is a 5-year appointment.
According to the USPTO, Ms. Udupa will join the USPTO on January 17, 2023. Congratulations Vaishali Udupa on the new position and to Andrew Faile on a really impactful career.
The appointment of a USPTO outsider to the Commissioner position is quite unusual, and I expect that the move represents a major commitment to change at the USPTO with an ongoing focus on diversity and inclusion within our intellectual property system. The move comes with some risks as Udupa confronts her management team who are likely to respond with “that is how things have always been done.”