Gerald J. Mossinghoff was born in St. Louis on September 30, 1935. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from St. Louis University and a law degree from George Washington University.
He worked four years as an examiner at the Patent Office, starting in 1957, before leaving to join a law firm. He returned to government service for a series of jobs including the post of director of legislative planning at the USPTO. Later, at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, he rose to the position of deputy general counsel.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Mossinghoff commissioner of patents and trademarks, and he took the oath of office on July 8, 1981. The next year Congress changed the title to Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, and Mossinghoff reported directly to the secretary of commerce.
Mossinghoff urged more automation for the USPTO. In 1981 the office installed a computer search device in the public search room that enabled the public to electronically search the first pages of all patents granted since 1971. The next year the office introduced word processors to eliminate the unpopular, cost-cutting practice of sending handwritten letters to patent applicants instead of having typists prepare letters for examiners using manual typewriters and carbon paper.
In 1982 the USPTO submitted a master plan to Congress calling for complete automation of the office’s operations by 1990. In 1983 the office introduced a computer system to provide up-to-date information on active trademarks and pending trademark applications.
Mossinghoff announced that the office would reduce patent backlogs with an “18 by 87” plan, meaning the waiting time would be cut to 18 months by 1987. A companion “3/13” plan for trademarks would achieve three months to first examination and 13 months to registration by 1985.
Congress passed landmark legislation in 1982 to establish the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The measure had strong support from the Reagan Administration and the private sector. For the first time patent infringement and validity issues were appealable from U.S. district courts to a single federal appeals court. Previously, district court appeals were taken to 12 regional appeals courts, causing a notorious lack of uniformity in patent law.
The Federal Circuit was formed by combining the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals (CCPA), which handled appeals from the USPTO, and the Court of Claims. The Federal Circuit’s first chief judge was Howard T. Markey, who was the CCPA’s chief judge and a former patent lawyer.
At Mossinghoff’s urging Congress passed legislation raising patent and trademark fees substantially in 1982, with the goal of having users pay the full cost of operating the USPTO in return for better service. The trademark examining units were reorganized into “Law Offices” that year, and trademark examiners were given the new title Trademark Examining Attorneys.
In 1983 the USPTO hosted the first Trilateral meeting with the Japan Patent Office and European Patent Office. The Trilateral Patent Offices became a permanent group that cooperated on patent system improvements. Also during Mossinghoff’s tenure, USPTO officials began serving as heads of U.S. delegations at international copyright meetings. The Copyright Office, in the legislative branch of government, was an advisor.
In 1984 Congress passed several patent-related measures supported by the Reagan Administration. The Board of Appeals was combined with the Board of Patent Interferences into a single Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. The legislation established a system of Statutory Invention Registrations (SIRs), which had the prior art effect of patents but no right to exclude others from an invention. At the time it was thought SIRs would relieve some of the office’s burden of examining patent applications.
Known informally as the Hatch-Waxman Act, the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 had sweeping effects on the generic drug industry and drug research. Drug innovators received patent extensions for a portion of the time a drug was delayed by regulatory review. Innovators also received a new five-year period of data exclusivity separate from patent rights. The act provided benefits to generic drug companies through Abbreviated New Drug Applications.
Mossinghoff resigned on January 21, 1985, at the end of President Reagan’s first term. He worked as the chief executive of a major industry trade association and then entered private law practice. He specialized in expert witness work in patent litigation. By 2017 he was still teaching law school courses on intellectual property, an avocation of his for nearly 25 years. He died in Arlington, Virginia, on March 20, 2020, at the age of 84.
Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1981-85).
Gilbert A. Robinson, Reagan Remembered, at 110 (Ch. 26 by Gerald J. Mossinghoff) (2015).
USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks (1981-85).
USPTO, The Story of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1988).