U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has named U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Associate Solicitor Joseph Matal to perform the functions and duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. The position is effective June 7, 2017 and follows the resignation of Michelle K. Lee. Matal will serve in this role during the nomination and confirmation process for a new Director.
Earlier in the day reports surfaced from the Intellectual Property Owners Association, which could not be confirmed by the USPTO, that Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld had been named Acting Director.
Behind the scenes rumors have speculated for some time that Matal might be in line for the position of Deputy Director of the USPTO in the Trump Administration, or possibly even under consideration for the top spot himself. Being named Acting Director, or at least as the person with the powers of the Director during the nomination and confirmation process for a new Director, would seem to remove him from any consideration for the top stop at USPTO. Being placed at the helm in the interim, however, does suggest that he is viewed quite favorably by Ross, and possibly others within the Trump Administration.
As an Associate Solicitor in the USPTO’s Office of Solicitor, Matal has briefed and argued appeals of patent and trademark decisions before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the U.S. District Court, and assisted in the development of legal positions taken by the U.S. Solicitor General in patent and copyright cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Matal recently served as acting Chief of Staff for the agency, and has advised the director on legislative matters.
Matal previously served as the General Counsel of the Judiciary Committee for former Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and as a Judiciary Committee Counsel to former Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ). In that role, he was the principal staff drafter and negotiator of legislation that became the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the first comprehensive patent law overhaul since 1952. Matal has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley.