The White House has announced President Obama’s plans to nominate Michelle Lee for the position of Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Although Lee is already the de facto Director of the office, this move has important political implications because it will help to better ensure both USPTO autonomy and USPTO influence within the Beltway. Congratulations to Michelle Lee and the Patent Office on this important move forward.
It was almost one year ago that Michelle Lee was appointed as deputy director and de facto director. At the time, I praised the selection of Lee, but questioned both the legality and the wisdom of appointing a prominent deputy director while leaving the slot of director still vacant. Because of legal limitations, Lee has not be identified as the “Acting Director” but only “acting as Director.”
Part of the willingness of the White House to now appoint Lee may have come from the country’s new Chief Technology Office Megan Smith who is a former Google executive. (Lee led Google’s patent strategy for a decade).
Up to now, Lee has largely followed the lead set by former Director Kappos and Acting Director Rea. The unanswered question is whether the new role will now embolden and empower Lee to shift USPTO policies in a new direction.