In Memoriam: Gerald J. Mossinghoff

Mossinghoff Portrait
April 01, 2020

The Honorable Gerald J. Mossinghoff, JD ’61, a legendary figure in the intellectual property community and a treasured member of the GW Law adjunct faculty for over two decades, passed away on March 20, 2020, at the age of 84.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mr. Mossinghoff Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. The following year, Congress updated his title to Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. In this role, he advised President Reagan on the establishment of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, strengthening patent law in the United States. He also led the agency toward automation and worked with Congress and industry to increase patent and trademark fees.

In 1983, President Reagan promoted Mr. Mossinghoff to the rank of Ambassador. In this capacity, he led the US delegation to the Diplomatic Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to revise the Paris Convention. At the same conference, the other UN member states elected him to serve as the President of the General Assembly.

Mr. Mossinghoff began his long and storied career in intellectual property in 1957 as a patent examiner for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). He later returned to government service in various roles, including Director of Legislative Planning at the USPTO and Deputy General Counsel at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

After stepping down as Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks in 1985, he became the President of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and served in that position until 1997.  

Since 1997, he had served as Senior Counsel to the Oblon patent law firm where he advised clients on a wide range of intellectual property issues. Also, in 1997, he joined the faculty of GW Law as an adjunct professor. He was inducted into the Intellectual Property Hall of Fame in 2007.

To generations of JD and LLM students at GW Law, Mr. Mossinghoff was the Armand and Irene Cifelli Professorial Lecturer in Law, a respected mentor, and a powerful role model who never tired of telling students about the professional rewards and satisfaction that came with a career in intellectual property law. For more than 20 years, he co-taught two seminars with Ralph Oman, the Pravel Professorial Lecturer in Intellectual Property and Patent Law and the former Register of Copyrights.

In addition to his teaching, Mr. Mossinghoff served as a judge of the Finnegan Prize Writing Competition for close to two decades. He also was a valued member of the law school’s Intellectual Property and Technology Law Advisory Council and a proud, loyal, and generous alumnus of GW Law.

In his honor, PhRMA established in 1997 the Honorable Gerald J. Mossinghoff Fellowship for Graduate Research in Intellectual Property at GW Law. The fellowship is awarded to law students pursuing an LLM or SJD degree in intellectual property with preference given to students who specialize in the pharmaceutical field.