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Biden nominates Winston & Strawn partner Kathi Vidal to lead USPTO

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The United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Prominent patent litigator heads Winston's Silicon Valley office
  • Previously led Fish & Richardson's litigation group
  • Attorneys say she's "eminently qualified," "safe pick"

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(Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced the nomination of Winston & Strawn partner Kathi Vidal, who leads the firm's Silicon Valley office, to head the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Vidal has extensive experience as a patent litigator, and has represented companies including Microsoft Corp, Tesla Inc, Intel Corp, Dell Corp, and Spotify Technologies SA over her career. She led Fish & Richardson's litigation group before joining Winston in 2017.

In a statement, the White House said Vidal is "one of the leading intellectual property lawyers in the country," and has been "nationally recognized for leading high-profile patent disputes" and as a "recognized thought leader on difficult issues confronting the legal profession and intellectual property law."

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A Winston & Strawn spokesperson said the firm was proud of Vidal's accomplishments.

"Our firm has a long-standing tradition of accepting leading roles in public service and we fully support Kathi as she continues with the selection process," the spokesperson said.

Vidal graduated from Binghamton University, received a masters degree in electrical engineering from Syracuse University, and attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. She also clerked for U.S. Circuit Judge Alvin Schall at the patent-heavy U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and was an engineer at General Electric Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Joseph Matal, a partner at Haynes & Boone who was the PTO's acting director from 2017 to 2018, said Vidal is "an outstanding selection — eminently qualified for the job."

"I wish her the best of luck as director," Matal said. "With all the controversies swirling around current Patent Office policies, she will need it."

"She's a safe pick for a vacancy that is now long overdue," said Scott McKeown, a partner at Ropes & Gray.

The next PTO director will have greater power to shape patent law following the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling in Arthrex Inc v. Smith & Nephew Inc, which gave the director authority to review decisions on patent eligibility by the office's Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Andrei Iancu, the PTO director under former President Donald Trump, resigned in January. Iancu was known for policies that were broadly seen as favoring patent owners compared to Michelle Lee, the PTO director in the Obama administration, and reformed the PTAB in ways that reduced the number of patents it invalidated.

Vidal has argued both for and against patent eligibility in patent cases at the Federal Circuit.

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn introduced a bill in September that would modify PTAB proceedings to facilitate challenges to what they called "poor-quality patents." Leahy, who heads the Senate Judiciary Intellectual Property Subcommittee, said the changes would help reduce drug prices and curb abusive litigation, and that Iancu had acted to "hamstring" patent challenges.

"I look forward to speaking with Ms. Vidal about her goals for the agency, including her ideas for continuing to improve patent quality while curbing abuse of the patent system," Leahy said in a statement.

Iancu didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Vidal's nomination.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Winston & Strawn.)

Read more:

In win for SAP, U.S. appeals court tosses 'abstract' software patent

Chamberlain's 'abstract' garage door opener patent falls at Fed Circuit

Senators Leahy, Cornyn introduce bill to 'restore' PTAB review process

Senator Leahy announces plans for legislation to change PTAB review

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com

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