USPTO Still Michelle Lee’s For Now

What an oddity – for the past 26 days, it has been an open secret that Michelle Lee remains USPTO Director but officials at the office have repeatedly refused to confirm or deny that role or to provide any answer to the question “Who is in charge at the USPTO?”

According to a Politico squib report, both Rep. Darryl Issa and USPTO PR Director Paul Fucito have confirmed that Dir. Lee is “in charge” but it is unclear whether she is still USPTO Director.

Paul Fucito tells [Politico Reporter] Nancy that Lee has been signing the certificates since since Inauguration Day. That function by law is handled by the director, but Fucito declined to clarify Lee’s status at the agency.

[Politico Report]  I requested both confirmation and further comment from the USPTO and Department of Commerce and was provided with “no comment.”

Representative Issa is now the Congressman with the most direct influence and oversight of USPTO activities in his role as chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.   Also communicating with Politico, Issa indicated his support for Dir. Lee but suggested that she may be transitioned into another administration role outside of the USPTO – such as trade negotiations or as a member of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Thus, we may still have a new USPTO director this spring.

We will not begin to see action until a Commerce Secretary (likely Mr. Ross) is confirmed and puts in place his pick for PTO Director.  This will likely happen next week.

For anyone pushing patent reform this term – either at the PTO or in the courts, you should recognize that all roads lead through Rep. Issa – nothing will go forward without his direct support.

 

 

About Dennis Crouch

Law Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. Co-director of the Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship.

15 thoughts on “USPTO Still Michelle Lee’s For Now

  1. Issa’s connections are simply not enough to properly confer authority to back up what he says.

    One of his aides should probably mention that to him…

  2. From the IP360 article: [Issa] said the Trump administration wanted to keep her on so that she wouldn’t leave the government for a lucrative job in the tech industry.

    However, Issa suggested that Lee may not remain as USPTO director and could be moved to another role in the government, such as one dealing with trade negotiations or technology policy.

    Three things likely going on here: (1) Lee is a reliable patent centrist who has done a fair job of keeping the system out of total meltdown mode (which is why she’s loathed by the maximalist/trumpist crowd who long for another Kappos to come along and turn the spigots up to 11) ; (2) having an Asian woman in this position is a huge deal for this Administration’s optics; (3) the Administration has far far far more important fires to put out before it implodes.

  3. She’s still in charge, as D notes. If her resignation wasn’t accepted formally then she’s still Director. I don’t know why you guys are trying to make that so hard. Just because she’s flying under the radar and not doing anything major (or anything to pi ss off Trump) doesn’t mean she isn’t still formally Director.

    1. If her resignation wasn’t accepted formally then she’s still Director.

      Right. If. Was it? We cannot know unless someone in the administration tells us. Why do they refuse to tell us one way or the other?

      I don’t know why you guys are trying to make that so hard.

      It is not us who are making anything hard. All I want is a straight answer. Is she still in charge or is she not? I am not especially eager for one outcome or the other in response to that question. I just want a clear answer.

      I agree that this business is hard, but the difficulties are entirely of the administration’s own making. They can answer the question any time they choose. Why do they choose not to answer?

      1. “Right. If. Was it? We cannot know unless someone in the administration tells us. Why do they refuse to tell us one way or the other?”

        I’m pretty sure that if it was she wouldn’t be in charge. So ergo, the answer must have been that it has as yet not been formally accepted.

        “Is she still in charge or is she not? ”

        See title and 2nd paragraph of OP. And yes.

        1. [E]rgo, the answer must have been that it has as yet not been formally accepted.

          That is a perfectly fair answer, of course. I see that the patents that issued yesterday have Lee’s signature, which is probably enough evidence to conclude that she is still in charge. Fine.

          On the other hand, the Commerce.GOV site still shows a vacancy in the PTO director’s slot. If one asks the PTO who is in charge, they refuse to give an answer.

          In other words, there is evidence in favor of the Lee-in-charge hypothesis, and evidence against. Why the mystery? Why not just answer the question when it is put to them?

          1. “In other words, there is evidence in favor of the Lee-in-charge hypothesis, and evidence against.”

            Um I can assure you 100% she’s in charge. Super secrit meeting last night confirms.

  4. How strange, all this mystery around who is in charge of the PTO. It really should not require so much tea-leaf reading to determine whose name needs to be on the caption if one wants to bring an APA suit against the PTO.

Comments are closed.