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A vision for impact

Taking Time to Listen to Inform Meaningful Action

Following a year in her position as Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Kathi Vidal has focused on listening and gathering the necessary feedback and data to effect sustainable change. Her approach to IP is informed by her understanding that we need to create a more robust and reliable IP ecosystem for all.

Director Vidal in her year-in-review highlight recap gave detailed insights and statistics from 2022-2023. She noted the efforts being made to protect businesses and their brands by informing consumers about the dangers and consequences of purchasing counterfeit or pirated goods through the partnership with the National Crime Prevention Council.  

Highlighting the opportunities for global participation, she said, “The challenges we face today, such as climate change, public health, and sustainability, are global issues, and we are collaborating with our counterpart IP offices on global solutions.” Her office has been extremely busy on the international front, having met with over two dozen foreign IP office leaders and embarking on an ambitious global agenda to strengthen our respective IP systems for the benefit of all communities. 

Director Vidal has spent her career championing the importance of mentoring and expanding opportunities to include more individuals from underserved communities. She has helped harness and protect innovation at all levels. Prior to joining the USPTO, she represented both patent holders and defendants in U.S. district courts and the International Trade Commission.

As Director of the USPTO, Vidal is working to expand American innovation for and from all, and to bring more ideas to impact.

Director Vidal took the time to answer a few of our questions regarding minority participation and access to the IP Ecosystem.

Q & A with

Kathi Vidal

Why is federal funding for inclusive patents and trademarks important?

In order for our IP ecosystem to enhance U.S. competitiveness, create jobs, and grow our economy, we must bring more people into the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem and give them the support they need to bring their ideas to market.


As President Biden has said, our nation’s diversity is our greatest asset. We need to further tap into this diversity and work to make our innovation ecosystem more welcoming and easier to navigate for all.


Data shows that if we quadruple the number of inventors, we could increase the overall level of U.S. GDP by up to 4.4 percent. For reference, 4.4% percent of the approximately $25 trillion U.S. GDP in 2022 represents more than $1 trillion in potential annual growth to the U.S. economy.

Last year, we expanded our Council for Inclusive Innovation (CI²) and I joined the Economic Development Administration’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) as a Co-Chair to work across government and with the private sector to expand the innovation ecosystem, especially among under-represented and under-resourced groups and in key technology areas.

The USPTO’s hub for startup resources can help you address the IP challenges specific to startups, including securing funding and guarding against costly infringement litigation. For information on IP fundamentals, such as filing a patent or registering a trademark, check out these resources for inventor and entrepreneurs. There you will find practical information and useful tools, available from a wide variety of government agencies, including the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Minority Business Development Administration (MBDA), and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). These agencies can assist you at every stage of growing your business, from your initial idea to entering the global marketplace.

A study by Michigan State Researchers found that from 1976 – 2008, African American inventors were awarded 6 patents per 1 million people compared to 235 patents per one million for all US inventors. What do you see as a challenge facing people of color in becoming patent (and trademark) owners?

I think we need to reach innovators at a young age to nurture the love of STEM and innovation, no matter where they are or where they came from. This is the first step to providing an innovation system that works for all.

That’s why we work with the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) to expand the Camp Invention summer programs and other educational programs that reached more than 280,000 students last year, with more than 70% of the students receiving some level of financial support

Kids can’t be what they can’t see, so through our Journeys of Innovation storytelling series, our social media platforms, and our NIHF partnership, we highlight inspiring stories of problem-solving innovators from all walks of life who have overcome barriers and achieved success as an inventor and/or entrepreneur.

For example, just last year NIHF inducted the first Black female inventors into its Hall of Fame, Drs. Patricia Bath (posthumous) and Marian Croak. Both women were ground- breaking innovators who pushed the boundaries of what was possible to achieve greatness in the fields of laser eye surgery (Bath) and voice-over IP used in Zoom, MS Teams, and other web communications software today (Croak).

We also provide teacher training through our National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI) program, a free, week-long intensive course in IP training for K-12 teachers to help them incorporate STEM/invention concepts into their curricula. We have launched a Master Teacher of Invention Education (MTIP) training course for K-12 teachers to help ‘train the trainer’ and provide more teachers across the country with IP knowledge and resources to reach more students with important invention education.

We know that the process of seeking patent and/or trademark registration protection can be daunting to those less familiar with our intellectual property (IP) system, so we revamped our Patents Basics and Trademarks Basics pages of our website to more user-friendly versions for those new to USPTO services.

We also recognize that application fees can also be a barrier for many, so we’ve reduced our fees for those who qualify as individual inventors and small businesses. We work hard to promote our free services, including our Patent Pro Bono program and our Law School Clinic program that offer free legal assistance to under-resourced innovators.

We know that when we meet people where they are with our Patent Pro Bono Program, we are expanding the innovation ecosystem:

43% of those we assist self-identify as Women

35% as identify African American or Black

14% identify as Hispanic

8% identify as Veterans

5.7% identify as Asian American or Native Pacific Islander

1.5% identify as Native American

With this kind of data, we know that innovation is everywhere, and through our continued commitment to meet people where they are, we will make our great country stronger and more resilient.

How do we boost awareness of the patent system in communities of color?

It’s important that everyone in the innovation ecosystem – from local leaders in corporate, academic, professional, and government organizations – work together to empower and encourage every potential innovator to envision themselves bringing their idea to life. In addition to what I previously mentioned, at USPTO we have free programs to assist individual inventors where they can learn more about the process, hear from successful inventors who share their stories and tips, and understand government resources that will help them wherever they are in their innovation journeys. These programs include our annual Invention-Con (coming up May 10-12), our Black Innovation and Entrepreneurship event series every February, our Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Innovation and Entrepreneurship event series in May, and our Hispanic Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program event series in October, to name a few.

We are working with HBCUs/MSIs to expand research commercialization and entrepreneurship opportunities that will benefit students and bring more people of color into the innovation ecosystem. Also, we are collaborating with government partners such as MBDA and SBA on programs and training to expand awareness for new business owners. For instance, the USPTO worked with its chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to deliver a multi-part training program to all first-year engineering and computer science students at Howard University, infusing IP education into that critical early stage of professional decision-making. And at the University of Puerto Rico, we developed and deployed workshops that introduce university faculty to basic IP concepts and help them identify ways to introduce IP into their courses. Additionally, we recently launched our Women’s Entrepreneurship (WE) initiative to elevate the conversation surrounding women business owners and connect them to each other and to important resources.

  • We host WE Wednesday panels that are free to the public to learn more about the patent process and what other resources are out there to assist -our last mentorship session was on April 26.
  • As part of WE, we launched the IP identifier tool to help those less familiar with the patent system understand if their idea or invention is patentable.

We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to get more innovators from underrepresented communities, including women and BIPOC innovators, off the bench and active participants in our system. We’d love to get more people involved in our efforts! Please email WE@uspto.gov, or check out our website at uspto.gov/we.

Through our Council for Inclusive Innovation, our close collaboration with sister Commerce agency the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), and our work with HBCUs, MSIs and other trusted collaborators, we have increased our outreach to underrepresented communities, including in the area of technology transfer so that more schools have the resources they need to support and protect their communities’ innovative output.

Now that you’ve been in this role for a year, what excites you about the future of the USPTO?

What’s clear from conversations throughout this past year is that, more than ever, our nation needs the progress and growth that IP protections provide. We need a robust and reliable IP ecosystem that cultivates an innovation mindset and catalyzes inclusive innovation and entrepreneurialism—one that drives economic prosperity, U.S. competitiveness, supply chain resiliency, national security, and creative world problem- solving. We must continue to lead, and work closely with our allies, to realize our potential. I’ve done a lot of listening throughout the past year, from my 200+ external stakeholder meetings to listening sessions with 1500+ employees, and I’m excited to make 2023 (and beyond) my year of action. 

As set forth in our draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, the USPTO is advancing five strategic goals:

  • Drive inclusive U.S. innovation and global competitiveness
  • Promote the efficient delivery of reliable IP rights
  • Promote the protection of IP against new and persistent threats
  • Bring innovation to positive impact
  • Generate impactful employee and customer experiences by maximizing agency operations

Working together with all those who care about the future of innovation in America, I am excited for us to move forward to achieve these goals and advance an IP system that works for all.


You transitioned from Engineering to IP Law, and have been outspoken about leveling the playing field for women, especially in law and tech. What do you think are the benefits of having more women in Law & STEM fields?

Giving women equal opportunities to choose and be successful in law and STEM careers promotes diversity and inclusivity in the law and STEM workforce, assists with narrowing the gender pay gap, and offers encouragement to future women engineers, lawyers, and scientists.

I was one of three women in my electrical engineering class and one of two women in my General Electric Edison Engineering program. I know the ratios are improving, but we are not at parity.

Giving women equal opportunities to choose and be successful in law and STEM careers promotes diversity and inclusivity in the law and STEM workforce, assists with narrowing the gender pay gap, and offers encouragement to future women engineers, lawyers, and scientists.

It also offers more diverse thought when it comes to the problems we solve and how we solve them. And the more inclusive our innovation system is, the more each person will be able to be their own authentic selves and perform at their peak. This is important not only for the individuals involved but for our Country.

We need participation by all – women, those who identify as diverse, people from rural communities – in our innovation ecosystem to grow high-paying jobs, promote economic prosperity and national security.


“Where there are new markets, we are there.”


Director Vidal shares her personal reflections as Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in the blog below.

One Year of Bringing Innovation to Impact 

As a young girl, I went with my father to a garage sale and came home with an oscilloscope—I had always tinkered and experimented and was fascinated with the ability to measure and see signals that were not perceptible to the human eye. My love for science and engineering continued as I worked on military aircraft during and after college as one of two women in GE’s Edison Engineering Program. I transitioned to intellectual property (IP) law after seeing first-hand the way IP, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights, inspired innovation and transformed and grew companies. IP allowed me to combine my thirst for knowledge of all things scientific and technical and my love of innovation with my business and startup interests. 

Now, one year into my role—at the intersection of IP law, policy, and innovation—I am focused on impact. I’ve spent the last year listening—in nearly 100 external stakeholder meetings, in internal small group listening sessions with over 1,500 USPTO employees, by reading your comments submitted via our requests for comments (RFCs) and your emails to my Engage with the Director inbox, in over 130 fireside chats, and in all my interactions across the country and the globe with inventors, entrepreneurs, and everyone who cares about making our IP ecosystem work for all. I care deeply about making data-driven decisions and getting it right.


If this last year was about listening and gathering the input and data to make meaningful, sustainable change, 2023 (and beyond) is about action. 

What’s clear from conversations throughout this past year is that, more than ever, our nation needs the progress and growth that IP protections provide. We need a robust and reliable IP ecosystem that cultivates an innovation mindset and catalyzes inclusive innovation and entrepreneurialism—one that drives economic prosperity, U.S. competitiveness, supply chain resiliency, national security, and creative world problem-solving. We must continue to lead, and work closely with our allies, to realize our potential.

As set forth in our draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, the USPTO is advancing five strategic goals:  

  1. Drive inclusive U.S. innovation and global competitiveness  
  2. Promote the efficient delivery of reliable IP rights  
  3. Promote the protection of IP against new and persistent threats  
  4. Bring innovation to positive impact  
  5. Generate impactful employee and customer experiences by maximizing agency operations   

Below are just a few examples of the work we’ve done together to advance these goals throughout the last year and to lay the groundwork to make surgical changes to key areas of practice before the USPTO to preserve all that is working well while ensuring the system works even better for all of you.

We all have a stake in the success of this agency and the future of the American IP ecosystem. I will be working hard toward these goals with the talented and dedicated staff at the USPTO and with all of you. 

With gratitude and optimism for an even brighter and more impactful year to come! 

P.S. While this year is our year of action, we will never be done listening. You can reach out directly to me via Director@uspto.gov or through our Engage with the Director page.

Kathi Vidal serves as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – America’s Innovation Agency. As the chief executive of the USPTO, she leads one of the largest intellectual property (IP) offices in the world, with more than 13,000 public servants and an annual budget of more than $4 billion. She is the principal IP advisor to the President and the Administration, through the Secretary of Commerce, and is focused on incentivizing and protecting U.S. innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

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