As the new USPTO director Andrei Iancu finds his feet at the agency (he was officially sworn in at the end of February) he has a to-do list as daunting as any facing the head of one of the world’s big five IP offices.
In no particular order the list includes possible reform of the PTAB; preparing a contingency plan should the Supreme Court find inter partes reviews (IPRs) unconstitutional; offering guidance on patent eligible subject matter as the Federal Circuit continues to make sense of the Supreme Court’s rulings; representing the US IP system overseas; and, in some quarters, restoring faith in a US patent system which some feel has skewed too heavily against patent owners.
With that kind of workload he will need a deputy who can shoulder some of the burden — currently Anthony Scardino is doubling up as both CFO and the deputy director but if the DC grapevine is accurate the permanent appointment as the agency's number two looks like being a familiar face. According to several sources, Joe Matal is in pole position to become Iancu’s deputy – in fact, speaking to Washington insiders no one came up with any other names.
Matal is of course a very known quantity in IP circles. Most recently he served as acting head after Michelle Lee, who was a holdover from the Obama administration, resigned in May last year. Before that he did a short stint as chief of staff in the twilight of Michelle Lee’s time as director and prior to that he was an associate solicitor at the agency. He also has long experience on Capitol Hill having served on the staffs of Senators Kyl and Sessions (the latter is the current Attorney General). Those roles meant he played a key role in the formulation of the America Invents Act up until its passage in 2011. You can see a thorough profile of Matal from IPWatchdog here.
It’s not clear just how much say the new director will have in who takes over as his number two — if recent history is any guide the appointment may largely be controlled by the White House. Should he remain in office and his deputy leave the role early then Iancu could have much more say in that appointment.
Matal’s experience at the PTO and on the Hill means that, should he be appointed, he would at least complement his new boss, whose background is as an LA-based private practice litigator, far removed from the machinations of DC. Complementary skillsets can work very well at the top of the agency such as when Terry Stanek Rea who heralded from private practice with a background primarily in the life sciences, served as deputy in the first Obama administration to David Kappos, whose background was in senior roles in-house at IBM.
While it is one of the highest profile jobs in the US patent system, PTO deputy director can also serve as a springboard to the top role. Michelle Lee did a short stint as deputy before being confirmed as director in early 2015, while George W Bush appointee Jon Dudas was in the role for two years before taking over as director in 2004.