Earlier today the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy Drew Hirshfeld to be the new Commissioner for Patents effective immediately. Hirshfeld succeeds Margaret “Peggy” Focarino, who served at the USPTO for 38 years and retired in early July 2015.
While there were many highly qualified applicants for the Office to consider, it seemed to me that Hirshfeld was the logical choice to become the next Commissioner. Hirshfeld has been a key member of the senior management team at the USPTO for years, and the other member of the senior management team who might have been a strong contender for the position — Bruce Kisliuk — is set to retire at the end of the month. Further, the position of Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy has long been a critically important role within the Office, which shouldn’t come as a surprise really given the fact that there are over 8,500 patent examiners and the predominant function of the Office is to examine patent applications.
Prior to being named Deputy Commissioner, Hirshfeld served two years as the USPTO Chief of Staff, managing operations and intergovernmental communications for then-Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. He also served as a Supervisory Patent Examiner as well as a Group Director of Technology Center 2100, overseeing Computer Networking and Database workgroups. Hirshfeld began his career at the USPTO in 1994 as a patent examiner. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Vermont and a Juris Doctor from the Western New England College School of Law.
“Drew Hirshfeld brings a wealth of experience to his new post as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Commissioner for Patents,” Secretary Pritzker said. “As Deputy Commissioner and in his previous position as USPTO Chief of Staff, Drew has been a valuable resource for the U.S. Department of Commerce and our ‘Open for Business Agenda.’ In his new role, I know he will continue to serve the American people and our nation’s great innovators.”
Pritzker is indeed correct. Hirshfeld, a career USPTO employee with over 20 years of service to the agency, has a wealth of experience. I have gotten to know Hirshfeld over the last few years and have found him to exceptionally knowledgeable and very dedicated to the patent system. In observing him I see someone who is not afraid to listen to constructive criticism and who is sincerely interested in creating a better, more streamlined examination process.
In his senior leadership posts at the USPTO, Hirshfeld has played key roles in managing patent operations, policy, and quality. He has overseen the Office of Patent Legal Administration (PCT); Office of Petitions; Office of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure; Office of PCT Legal; and Office of Patent Quality Assurance. Hirshfeld also played a key role in the creation of the position of Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality to help the USPTO focus on improving patent quality. Hirshfeld also played a key role in implementing guidance created in response to the America Invents Act (AIA).
“Drew Hirshfeld has served in a variety of important roles at our agency, and through that service has obtained unique and fundamental insights into our operations and our mission,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee. “While overseeing our patent examination policy and engaging with the public, he has gained an invaluable understanding of the wants and needs of American innovators. All of us at the USPTO, and the American public at large, will benefit from his wisdom and experience in his new role as Commissioner.”
The next question for the USPTO to answer will be who will replace Hirshfeld as Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy. The good news is that the USPTO bench is deep with highly qualified, career officials who are dedicated to the patent system.