Joseph Matal Named Acting Head of Patent Office

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By Tony Dutra

Joseph Matal, an important figure in drafting the landmark America Invents Act of 2011, was named acting director of the Patent and Trademark Office June 7 by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

The AIA brought significant changes to U.S. patent law.

The announcement comes a day after former PTO Director Michelle K. Lee resigned. Matal previously was an associate solicitor in the PTO’s Office of Solicitor and acting chief of staff.

“Matal will serve in this role during the nomination and confirmation process for a new director,” according to a Commerce Department statement.

Matal was on the Senate Judiciary Committee staff during the AIA debate. He was “the principal staff drafter and negotiator” of the final bill, according to the statement. His “A Guide To The Legislative History of the America Invents Act,” Part I and Part II, is often cited in court opinions interpreting the legislation.

In his role as associate solicitor, Matal argued the PTO’s viewpoint in several cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He advised Lee on legislative matters in his role as chief of staff.

Matal has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

The announcement was a surprise because it contradicted the succession plan defined by Department of Commerce regulation. That directive calls for giving the acting director job to the PTO deputy director first, and if that position is “vacant,” to the commissioner for patents.

Acting Deputy Director Anthony P. Scardino was not appointed to that job, so that position was arguably vacant. Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld was therefore rumored to be the most likely candidate for the interim position. But there is precedent for that not being an optimal solution.

In 2013, Commissioner for Patents Margaret “Peggy” Focarino became acting director when both director and deputy director positions were vacant. But Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker quickly nominated Lee as a deputy director so that she could take on the director’s operational duties and Focarino could focus on patent examination responsibilities.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Dutra in Washington at adutra@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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