Andrei Iancu Confirmed as Director of the USPTO

Congratulations to Mr. Andrei Iancu as he was just confirmed by the Senate as next Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

The new director’s last name was pronounced “YON-koo” in the video on CSPAN2.

According to Mr. Iancu’s professional profile on his former firm’s website (cached) he was “Managing Partner of Irell & Manella LLP from 2012 to 2018.” Attending UCLA for his undergraduate, masters, and law degrees, he also taught patent law at the UCLA School of Law. His profile also lists a diverse set of technologies:

He has represented clients across the technology spectrum, including those associated with medical devices, genetic testing, therapeutics, the Internet, telephony, TV broadcasting, video game systems and computer peripherals.

With regards to the nomination by President Trump, IP Watchdog reported:

With certain noncontroversial nominations it is not uncommon for deals to be struck between Senate leaders to allow nominees to be confirmed by unanimous consent, which allows a package of nominees to be confirmed without requiring individual up or down votes. These deals can be somewhat typical immediately preceding a recess, as was the case in August 2017 when dozens of Trump nominees were confirmed via voice vote. Given the unanimous vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee it would seem that Iancu’s nomination would easily qualify as noncontroversial. But being favorably reported by the Judiciary Committee so close to the end of the working year may make it too late for confirmation by unanimous consent, assuming that would be the way the Senate chooses to proceed.

While many have cited the White House’s stance on drug prices as the biggest concern to be addressed in terms of intellectual property policy, World IP Review believes “fee diversion” to be the most pressing matter:

But he will immediately face several major challenges, one of them stemming from the diversion of USPTO fees to other functions within the Department of Commerce (DOC)…Many of the previous directors were successful in preventing what has become “a fairly recent occurrence”, according to Bob Stoll, partner at Drinker Biddle and a former USPTO commissioner for patents. He says the problem has reared its head partly because there has been no powerful director at the USPTO stopping it from happening.

Of course, others, such as Rob Aronoff of the International IP Commercialisation Council posting on IAM, are asking for attention on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board:

For SMEs, the drivers of much of the US economy, the PTAB proceedings are the IP equivalent of a “Damoclean sword” hanging over their patent rights. These small businesses, often former employees of the big companies or university spin-outs, are a vital source of the next big ideas. While there is an established link between obtaining intellectual property and funding for startups, there now is widespread disillusionment with the value of obtaining US patents. Fewer fundamental (versus network-oriented ’me too’) companies get funded and founded. Those which cannot receive massive funding and achieve hyper-scale business models now too often die on the vine because investors are wary of funding ideas they cannot reasonably protect. This same line of thinking incents even big companies to adopt a fast follower strategy instead of pushing the envelope in hard-to-protect areas of innovation. The loss of this leading-edge investment is arguably already visible. Recent studies point to a decline in the share of US R&D spending as compared to China and the rest of Asia, and a decline in the relative ranking of the US regarding global technological innovation.

Whereas, the Computer & Communications Industry Association has already requested the Director to expand the scope of IPRs to address “abuse”:

We hope the new director can withstand pressure from those who are now successfully misusing the patent system and implement changes to curb that abuse. The patent office and Congress should be working to take away some of the tools that allow patent trolls to expand their reach and harm innovation…Expanding the inter partes review system would help the patent examiners remedy situations where patent trolls are using weak or mistakenly issued patents to abuse the system.