Michelle Lee has been appointed the next deputy under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and deputy director of the USPTO. She is the replacement for Teresa Stanek Rea, who left the agency last month.
The appointment has led to some speculation that Lee could eventually become the director of the USPTO as well as questions about whether legally she could be appointed at all.
Lee is the director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office and will begin her new role at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, on January 13 2014.
Before becoming director of the Silicon Valley USPTO, Lee served two terms on the USPTO’s Patent Public Advisory Committee.
Lee previously served as deputy general counsel for Google and was the company’s first head of patents and patent strategy. She also served as a partner at the Silicon Valley-based law firm of Fenwick & West, where she advised a wide range of high-technology clients.
Lee will perform the functions and duties of the USPTO director, a position that has been vacant for almost a year. In accordance with statutory law, she will assume the title of acting director once President Obama nominates a director.
After Lee begins her new role in January, John Cabeca, who has been at the USPTO 25 years, will serve as the director of the Silicon Valley satellite office until the permanent office in San Jose City Hall becomes operational. He is the senior advisor to the under secretary for intellectual property and director of the USPTO and a former Semiconductor Technology Center Director.
The American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) welcomed the appointment but expressed its hope that a nomination for director would be forthcoming soon.
"Having been without the full complement of permanent leadership for too long, we are encouraged that this process is now continuing," said Todd Dickinson, executive director of the AIPLA. "We fully appreciate the challenges Michelle will be facing, especially at this critical time, both at the Office and in the world of IP generally, and finding the right balance among diverse stakeholder interests will be perhaps the most important test. We have worked with Michelle as director of the Silicon Valley Office of the USPTO, and we look forward to doing all we can to help her in her new role. We congratulate her on her appointment."