The Biden administration brings with it a changing of the guard at the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). As is customary for at least the last several decades, the USPTO’s leaders have resigned at or near the end of each presidential term. President Trump’s appointees have followed this custom. Indeed, both the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu, and his Deputy Secretary and Director, Laura Peter, announced last week that they would be stepping down. Peter acknowledged that such resignations are “customary upon a change of administration” in her announcement.
Iancu and Peter implemented new policies that many patent owners appreciated. For example, under their leadership the USPTO issued new guidelines on patent eligibility and adopted a new claim construction standard in post-grant proceedings (mirroring the standard used by District Courts). In addition, the rate at which the USPTO instituted post-grant proceedings—usually challenges to the validity of patents brought by third-parties—began to drop under their leadership.
While a big shake-up at the USPTO is not anticipated, Biden has yet to announce his pick to replace either Iancu or Peter. As is common with these positions, appointments are not expected for several months and a confirmation will not likely occur until mid-2021. Until new appointees are confirmed by the Senate, the Commissioner for Patents, Drew Hirshfeld, will step into Iancu’s role in leading the USPTO and senior counsel Coke Stewart will temporarily cover Peter’s role. For now, we wait to see who Biden nominates and what this signals for the future of the USPTO.