The director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wants more women to secure patents. That could add $1 trillion to the economy

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director Kathi Vidal.
Courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Karen Bass takes her first actions as Los Angeles mayor, women express concern over trendy A.I. portraits, and we could add $1 trillion to the U.S. economy if more women secured patents. Have a lovely Tuesday.

– Innovation nation. Startup founders and small business owners looking for government support often turn to agencies like the Small Business Administration or the Minority Business Development Agency. If Kathi Vidal has her way, soon those entrepreneurs will think of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Vidal, a longtime intellectual property lawyer (and a Fortune Most Powerful Women community member), was nominated for the role of USPTO director by President Joe Biden and confirmed in April. Since then, she’s been working to help the USPTO reach more people to spur innovation nationwide.

A critical part of that mission is diversifying who applies for and receives patents. Women are listed on about 13% of U.S. patents. Providing pro-bono legal services increases women’s patent applications to 41%, a recent study found. Overall, Vidal says bringing women into the patenting system at the same rate as men could add $1 trillion to the U.S. economy.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director Kathi Vidal.
Courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The issue isn’t just access to legal services. Some of the basics of how the patenting system operates have excluded people. If a person applies for a patent that’s not approved, they automatically receive a form letter rejection. To the government, a rejection is an opportunity to apply again—but applicants often don’t realize that. Vidal plans to add cover letters to patent decisions that explain, in more accessible language, what a rejection means. “Now you’re collaborating with the examiner and working with the examiner to find something to patent as opposed to feeling like you’re in this adversarial process,” she says.

Encouraging more people to patent their work supports the U.S. economy and overall national competitiveness, especially in fields like A.I. and emerging technologies, Vidal says. “We were able to come up with a COVID vaccine because there were patents that preceded the actual events,” she says. “Companies can collaborate—because when you don’t have patents, companies don’t want to share their ideas.”

To achieve those goals, Vidal is directing the USPTO to meet inventors where they are, whether that’s at the Small Business Administration or the local library. “Would it be great if everybody knew the word USPTO like they know NASA? I would love that,” she says. “But we don’t want to depend on that. We want to get out there.”

One way the USPTO gains more recognition with the public is through news-making patents and trademarks—including rejections. Last month, the office’s Trial Trademark and Appeal Board rejected an application by Mariah Carey to trademark the term “Queen of Christmas.” Vidal says she keeps an eye on the news, even if such decisions aren’t her top priority. “It may be that it’s a term that other people should be able to use,” Vidal says of decisions like that one.

Whether it’s a Christmas trademark or a scientific breakthrough, Vidal’s goal still stands. “I want to incentivize more innovation in the U.S.,” she says.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Paige McGlauflin. Subscribe here.


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