Kathi Vidal: Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

Episode 317

Interested in learning about some of the initiatives that the US Patent and Trade Office is focused on? Well, you need to tune into this conversation with Kathi Vidal, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, also known as USPTO. As the Chief Executive of the USPTO, she leads one of the largest intellectual property offices in the world, with more than 13,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $4 billion! She is the principal IP advisor to President Biden and the Administration through the Secretary of Commerce and is focused on incentivizing and protecting U.S. innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity. I am excited for you to hear more about the Office’s focus on Inclusive Innovation, CI2, and WE, which is launching today. This is a must-listen that I know you will enjoy. Today on #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be, I want to be just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so so thrilled to have our next guest here. I’ve actually known Kathi for some time. And I’m absolutely thrilled to and honored, I should say, to have her here to discuss a lot of what is going on with her current role, but also just overall just to help others and really understand what exactly her office is doing. And a lot of the good stuff that is that has not been announced yet, but is actually getting announced here. So very, very excited. So Kathi Vidal is the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which is also referred to as USPTO. But she serves as the undersecretary of Commerce for intellectual property and director of the US Patent and Trademark Office. And in that role as the chief executive of the USPTO, she leads one of the largest intellectual property offices in the world, with more than 13,000 employees, holy moly, and an annual budget of over 4 billion. She is the principal IP advisor to our US president, President Biden and the administration through the Secretary of Commerce and is focused on incentivizing and protecting us innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity. And Kathi leads an agency whose mission is to help American workers and businesses compete. Gotta love that. And I am so excited to hear more about the offices focus on inclusive innovation and learn more about CI squared and Kathi’s role in that. And finally, I’m super excited to hear more about her newest program called Wi Fi, which she will share a little bit more about. So welcome, Kathi.

Kathi Vidal 2:52
Thank you, Kara. So excited to be here with you today.

Kara Goldin 2:55
Super, super excited and honored. And so first of all, you and I haven’t talked too much about this, but how did it feel to be asked to lead the the Patent and Trademark Office?

Kathi Vidal 3:12
So that’s interesting. It’s, you know, it is a service position. And so when I was first asked about it, I had to think about it because my family was in California, you know, certainly I had, I felt like I was making a lot of change where I was, as you know, care, we made a lot of change together. And so, but it didn’t take long for me to reflect on it. And just think about what an honor and opportunity to do more to lift Americans. So once I actually reflected on it and got my family’s buy in. I was just so thrilled to have at that time to have the potential to serve the country.

Kara Goldin 3:51
Well, what an amazing, amazing pick and you are the second woman to actually run that office. So that is absolutely just so inspiring to to know you on so on so many fronts. So like you said, you had a career, you had done quite a bit around diversity, and obviously had worked with some major major companies in your practice, but also worked with a lot of startups and had done angel investing and so had known a lot of entrepreneurs along the way. So when you were making this decision, and did you feel like there’s something that I really want to impact when I get to Washington and what was that?

Kathi Vidal 4:40
So that is the way that I looked at it. I thought about what the US Patent and Trademark system does for the country in terms of incentivizing innovation. It democratizes to some extent innovation and entrepreneurship because regardless of who you are when you walk in that room to seek investment and you have intellectual property protection. It’s something concrete that investors can invest in. So I thought through that, as well as us competitiveness, national security, there are so many things that our system impacts. And it seemed like the time to jump in to see if we could lift all of that.

Kara Goldin 5:16
So what do you see as the biggest challenges for the US Patent and Trademark Office

Kathi Vidal 5:22
time, I would just say that we have so much we want to accomplish and we’re going to need, we’re going to need partnerships, we’re going to need to partner across government. So we did an all of government approach. And we need public private partnerships so that we can actually move the needle quick more quickly than we ever have before. So that to me is the biggest challenge that the colleagues I work with are phenomenal. The number of people who’ve come out and said we want to support you, we want to work with the USPTO has been great, all kinds of stakeholders of all sizes, and then across government, we’re all aligned. So now is the time, and it’s just a matter of marshaling those resources and moving quickly.

Kara Goldin 6:01
That’s incredible. So we’ve had a number of guests on our show, my show primarily is interviewing founders and entrepreneurs, all over the world, this podcast is heard but a number of guests who have shared that along the their journey, they waited to actually file for trademarks along the way, and more than a few of them figured out that that was a really bad idea, and that they had to rebrand they had to do a lot of things. So I’d love for you to share with everybody why it’s so important to file trademarks early rather than later.

Kathi Vidal 6:49
Yeah, it’s even more important on the patent side, but absolutely on the trademark side that you need to figure out what your brand is really differentiate your product. And then once you figure out what that is, and start to invest in it, if you don’t protect it before somebody else does, and you lose it, you then lost all that name recognition with all the money that you’ve invested with all this sweat equity. So it’s critical that you think about that upfront, as soon as you start having a product offering.

Kara Goldin 7:16
Yeah, no, absolutely. So you made an unprecedented move. Last month, I as I was doing some research was just so inspired by this, and issued the offices first sanctions against a patent challenger for abuse of the system. I know you can’t speak specifically about any cases. But generally, why was this so important for you to actually take this to Congress?

Kathi Vidal 7:47
So I’ll just I’ll just bring it up a level because you’re right care. I can’t speak about individual cases. I will say that, as you mentioned, you mentioned Congress. So Congress did write me a letter about, about abuses generally and about whether I was going to tolerate abuses on the system. And I wrote back categorically that I would not, from my perspective, the abuses get in the way of the operations of the PTO, they get in the way of us being able to serve small to medium sized enterprises. And they, you when you have abuses of the system, there’s less trust in the system. So I feel very strongly that part of my role is to make sure that I’m upholding the trust in the institution, and that I’m ferreting out any abuses and and getting rid of them.

Kara Goldin 8:30
Well, I love the fact as I mentioned earlier, that you’ve worked with entrepreneurs, and you know, the pain points, all different industries, frankly, that you’ve have friends who are entrepreneurs, and again, like have scaled companies from zero to, you know, hundreds of millions, maybe even a few billions, right that along the way that I just think that that’s just such a critical piece to know that you’re in the office, and you’re really standing up for abuses. So I absolutely love that. So let’s talk about the Council for inclusive innovation. So also known as CI squared. Can you share a little bit about what is that and what are the priorities?

Kathi Vidal 9:17
So I appreciate that. So it’s a council that is led by the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and I vice chair it. And what it is is a council that is working to expand innovation throughout the country, inclusively, so in underrepresented communities in underrepresented areas of the country. And what I have done with it since I took the helm about six months ago is I’ve expanded it to take an all of government approach. So I now have a number of CO vice chairs in different positions in government. And we’re working together to make sure that we work across government with Small Business Association and BDA, a lot of the different organizations across the country. Free, so that we can reach would be inventors, innovators, brands where they are, and let them know about the ability to protect IP and to bring their ideas to impact.

Kara Goldin 10:10
Very cool. So the priorities like how, how does it differ versus maybe what was going on before.

Kathi Vidal 10:19
So this is something that started a little bit before my time in the last administration, with the Secretary of Commerce. And from my perspective, what we are doing is really finding a way to amplify it to ramp it up and to have impact quickly. And so we’ve begun a number of different initiatives. With that in mind, we have regional offices throughout the country. So we are working to figure out how our presence throughout those regions can have more impact. And I’ll just give you one example. So one of the things that we do is we collaborate with 21, pro bono organizations that actually cover the entire of the United States. And as soon as I got on board, we expanded our efforts with them, so that we could reach more people, because we realized that the more we can connect up with people and provide them pro bono services, the more we’re going to live people, demographically in different geographic regions, etc. and took care of just to give you an idea on numbers. Right now, the number of women on patent is about 12 to 13%. When we got out there through pro bono, and met the women where they where they are, no matter where they are in the country, the number jumped from 12 to 13% to 41%. Wow, in terms of representation, yeah, it’s huge. And the other demographics were just as pleasantly surprising. So the number of people that we service through pro bono that identify as African American is 30%, Hispanic 14%, I could just go on and on. But that’s just an example of where we’re doubling down on things, investing more, investing more time investing more money, to make sure that we’re getting out to people as opposed to waiting for them to discover what the USPTO is and knocking on our door.

Kara Goldin 12:11
That’s incredible. Do you feel like it’s shifted quite a bit in terms of, of where these entrepreneurs are, as well.

Kathi Vidal 12:19
So it’s interesting, we just released a study on where women patent. So we looked at were women patent throughout the entire United States on a county by county basis. And what we found is, it’s not as much shifting because typically women patented where women used to patent. So the biggest rises in where women were patenting is where they were already patenting. But we also found some other correlations that are interesting, including the women patenting really correlate with education. So once women attain certain educational levels, the chance that we’re going to find new women patentees in their county really escalates. So we’re on all this, we’re trying to study data from across the country to figure out what the trends are, what’s driving inclusive innovation was bringing more people into the ecosystem, so that we can adapt the ecosystem to be more inclusive.

Kara Goldin 13:16
So, so interesting. So let’s jump into your newest program. We the Women’s Entrepreneur initiative, which of course, I absolutely am so excited about. It’s launching today on November 16, can you share a little bit more about what you hope to accomplish by launching this?

Kathi Vidal 13:39
Well, and I appreciate that, Kara. So for the Council for inclusive innovation, we have a lot of tools, we have a lot of training, we have a lot of programs we’re running for everyone. And the thought with we and we’re going to probably do this in other areas as well is, a lot of times women connect better in with resources that are focused on women. So the idea with we is to provide a kind of a mind a micro ecosystem within government so that women can connect in to all the resources in government, whether it’s funding from our sister agencies, whether it’s filing for a trademark or patent within the USPTO. And then we’d be there to support them, not only with the government resources, but also all the great work that’s already going on around the country to support women. So I really see it as the USPTO acting as a catalyst and an amplifier to make sure that we bring women together, both those who have been successful is where as well as those who can benefit from it to make sure we’re bringing more women into the innovation ecosystem.

Kara Goldin 14:42
So today, November 16, is the launch event. But you’ve got other things set up along the way and the programming, do you want to share a little bit more about what is in the future?

Kathi Vidal 14:54
Perfect. So it was really great because when we started thinking about doing this, we realized that November 9 tene is women’s entrepreneurship day. So what better way of having a forcing function to launch a program to do it just in time for the night team. So that’s how we pick the 16th. And 19th is the Saturday so it didn’t make sense to launch anything on a Saturday. And then we launched it on a Wednesday, because what we want to do going forward is number one, we want to connect women with the resources, the tools and the mentoring to make them successful. And part of that I could go on and on about all the resources we have around that, but making sure that they connect into all of that. We also want to bring successful women in whether it’s women who can teach them more about using the IP system to bring their ideas to impact women who can teach them about how to find funding, both in the government and outside the government. And women can who can teach them how to network and you’re really be successful, and all they do. So what we’re doing is a couple things. One, we we launched a website today. So there’ll be a lot of resources on the website, we’re going to continue to develop that. And then we’re going to start to have we Wednesdays, so women entrepreneur, Wednesdays where we will open that up to women entrepreneurs around the country, to tune in here great ideas, ask questions and get advice. So that’s really the next step is to launch the we Wednesdays. And then after that in March of every year, we have a women entrepreneurship symposium, which is a phenomenal program to really help kickstart and launch women. So we will celebrate that as well and have programming around that. And then in April, world IP Day this year was just announced as focusing on women. So there’s a lot of programming this year that really makes this year to launch an initiative like this, to bring all the great people like you together and figure out what more we can do to leverage all the resources out there to support women even more.

Kara Goldin 16:51
I’m so excited for this. And I think it’s such a great idea and really giving people a place to kind of tune in to kind of support them. I mean, you you shared a little bit of around the you just mentioned it, but also, you know, protecting your idea funding the startup and then networking. And then I think also just giving people the courage and the the ability to believe in themselves. Because I think that that’s half the battle, there’s so many people that have great ideas and and really would love to get their project out there but maybe aren’t as confident as maybe even some male counterpart parts that are out there. Right. And, and I think there’s tons of studies that have shown this, but if we can support each other and really help each other to launch something, I think that that’s, that’s an amazing thing.

Kathi Vidal 17:51
Well, and I think it’s two part one is women do better when they collaborate, and when they’re with other women. You know, we see that from the statistics, women’s, you know, all of our happy juices start flowing when we’re collaborating versus competing. And so just getting women together and letting them run ideas by each other and collaborate is huge. In and of itself. The the data we saw from the study of the county by county on where women patents, it’s where other women patents. So we know that that’s a recipe for success. We also know there’s so many amazing organizations through this country that get women together. But usually there is a bar that you have to you have to apply. You have to be selected, you have to be at a certain level. And this is really about serving everyone to make sure that all women have access to something like that, and to bring together the women who are in those organizations as well as the women who aren’t in those organizations.

Kara Goldin 18:43
That’s amazing. And there, will there be a membership fee of any sort or No, nothing like that, which is terrific.

Kathi Vidal 18:51
Yes, no membership fee at all. Our goal is to figure out how we can serve women with all the resources we have, as you mentioned, we have 13,000 in the USPTO itself. We’re working across Commerce on this, this is really important to the secretary as well, in 20 22 million women left the workforce and we’re trying to get them either back in the workforce are starting their own companies. And it’s just it’s such a great time to really focus on this.

Kara Goldin 19:19
Well, I’ve had a few guests on recently, Julia Boorstin, who had a book that came out recently, and she shared that the number of females that are getting funded has actually dropped down to 2% combined with another one of my guests who is a McKinsey partner and she talked about how many people are currently leaving the workforce. McKinsey just came out with their newest study and many of those people or women that are leaving and they’re not necessarily leaving because they have kids at home that they need to take care of. They’re leaving because they’re frustrated. All right, and they potentially do have ideas that they want to go out and launch. And I think that having this group could be just the thing to get people to really spur innovation and, and more projects out there run by women. So I think it’s really, really terrific. So So what can we do? Or what asked do you have for our listeners?

Kathi Vidal 20:26
Well, I appreciate that. And any ideas people have on what more we can do to serve American women who have great ideas, whether it’s about building a company, or whether it’s a technological idea, we want to be here and be a resource. So A, we want to connect into all those who are doing great work, we’re not looking to replace that work, we’re looking to lift it, to make sure that women know where they can go to get the support they need, will be part of that ecosystem, but more as a supplement and as a catalyst. And so for anybody has good ideas on that you can reach me directly at [email protected]. And look forward to sharing ideas, if you know great women that we should highlight that can tell their stories, there are so many of them. Although the number of women who get investment is quite low, as you mentioned, we’re looking to change that and to tell the story of those who’ve made it and to have all the great people you and I both know Kara who are out there seeking women to invest in and you all the great resources we right now have in government. So looking forward to connecting with anybody who has great ideas on that.

Kara Goldin 21:31
I love that so much. And we’ll have all of the connections in the show notes as well. Kathi, thank you so much. And best of luck with everything. Thank you so much for serving and doing what you’re doing as well because I I know how hard you’re working and how much you’re accomplishing. And I really, really, you inspire so many of us. So thank you again, and thanks everybody for listening. Have a great rest of the week. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening