On Saturday, September 2nd, a press release issued by the White House announced that President Donald Trump selected 42 nominees to fill senior administrative roles in the federal government. The nominated officials include a series of foreign ambassadors as well as new leadership at NASA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Margaret Weichert, Trump’s selection for deputy director of management at the OMB, is an inventor who has received “14 successful U.S. patents,” an indication that someone knowledgeable about patents and the U.S. patent system will have a role in shaping U.S. policy on the budget for the executive branch, including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
As an inventor and entrepreneur, Weichert’s focus was squarely on financial networking and online transactions. In 1999, she co-founded Achex Inc., an online payment services developer which specialized in secure checking account transfers over the Internet. Achex was then purchased for an undisclosed amount by e-commerce firm First Data Corporation (NYSE:FDC) in July 2001. According to Weichert’s LinkedIn profile, she worked at First Data between July 2001 and July 2010, advancing to the position of senior VP of product marketing and business development. Between December 2004 and February 2009, however, Weichert left First Data to work for Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), beginning as the company’s senior VP of payments strategy and then advancing to senior VP of business planning and development executive with a focus on e-commerce and ATMs.
Many of the patents listing Weichert as an inventor were issued during the 2000s and most are assigned to First Data Corporation, even those issued during Weichert’s time with Bank of America. In February 2006, U.S. Patent No. 7003493, entitled Direct Payment with Token, was issued to First Data and lists Weichert as the lead inventor. It claims a method of transferring payment from a sender to one or more recipients using a wide-area computer network using transfer information including an identifier and a credit amount to create an automated or semi-automated system for transferring money. The resulting invention reduces costs for those parties regularly sending small payment amounts, such as in the case with certain royalties, or for employers who send paychecks to an employee’s checking account via direct deposit.
U.S. Patent No. 7580857, titled Methods and Systems for Online Transaction Processing, was issued in August 2009 and includes Weichert among a list of 13 inventors. It claims a method for coordinating an Internet-based financial transaction between an Internet merchant and a customer which involves sending encrypted content containing financial account and customer identification information in a packet to a financial institution to perform a debit transaction. The resulting invention allows for online debit transactions instead of credit transactions, where it may not be guaranteed that funds will be transferred.
Unfortunately, these appear to be exactly the kind of patents which would be under siege under the current incarnation of the U.S. patent system. The patentability of financial software methods has been severely damaged since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2014 decision in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, a case which declared a patent covering a computer system acting as a third-party intermediary in a transaction to be invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The fact that Weichert’s patents cover technology used in financial transactions would also seem to open those patents to covered business method (CBM) review proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), where the Section 101 invalidity challenge can be pursued further than it could in U.S. district court. In an ideal world, all of this means that one of the people who will be in charge of setting the budget for the USPTO will be acutely aware of at least some of the issues going on within that agency in the current moment. A search of Lex Machina’s litigation database didn’t render any PTAB trials involving Weichert’s patents.
More recently, Weichert has served on the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG)’s Fintech Steering Committee since 2010. Since 2013, Weichert has also served as a principal at business management consulting firm Ernst & Young. She holds a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, a post-graduate diploma in economics from the University of Sussex and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley.