Managing IP is part of the Delinian Group, Delinian Limited, 8 Bouverie Street, London, EC4Y 8AX, Registered in England & Wales, Company number 00954730
Copyright © Delinian Limited and its affiliated companies 2023

Accessibility | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Modern Slavery Statement

Lee nomination as USPTO director confirmed

President Barack Obama has announced his intention to nominate Michelle Lee as undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO. She had been performing the functions and duties of the USPTO director in her position of deputy director


Lee was appointed as the deputy director of the USPTO in December last year, following Teresa Rea leaving the role the previous month. She was previously director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office. She is a former deputy general counsel for Google, where she worked between 2003 and 2012, and was the company’s first head of patents and patent strategy.

The USPTO has been without a director since January 2013 when the popular David Kappos stood down. Rea had been acting director before she left the USPTO.

The nomination ends months of speculation and criticism about the lack of a director at the USPTO. During the summer rumours suggested Phil Johnson, senior vice-present for intellectual property at Johnson & Johnson, was going to be nominated. This was a popular choice among patent practitioners, but supporters of patent reform strongly opposed the potential appointment. Reports suggested the White House dropped the idea as a result.

The appointment needs to be confirmed by the Senate, however. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a prominent player in efforts to pass patent reform, congratulated Lee on the appointment.

“During her tenure as Deputy Director, Ms Lee has worked to reduce the backlog in patent applications, improve examination processes, and implement the post-grant review programs created by the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to improve patent quality,” he said in a statement. “I have found Ms Lee to be thoughtful and respectful of the diverse perspectives across the patent community, and a valuable resource to the Senate Judiciary Committee.”


The Innovation Alliance also welcomed the appointment.

“In her time at USPTO, she has demonstrated a nuanced appreciation of the complexity of the innovation ecosystem in the United States,” said Brian Pomper, executive director of the Innovation Alliance. “Ms Lee understands, as she recently stated, that policymakers must strive in the patent system to ‘achiev[e] the right balance between curbing litigation abuses and maintaining a robust patent enforcement regime.’

“We look forward to working with Ms Lee to achieve that balance and ensure that the patent system continues to be a force for innovation and job creation in the United States for entities of all sizes.”

If confirmed, Lee would be the first woman and first Asian Pacific American to serve as director of the office. Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) congratulated Lee on the nomination.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, CAPAC chair said: “CAPAC endorsed Michelle as a candidate for this position because we recognised that with over two decades of experience in property and patent law, she would make an outstanding leader in promoting and protecting our nation’s intellectual property. I applaud President Obama for recognizing Michelle’s qualifications and for his commitment to advancing women of color in leadership roles. I urge my Senate colleagues to move quickly on her confirmation.”

The Coalition for Patent Fairness commented that Lee would be an outstanding leader for the USPTO. “Only Congress can stop patent trolls from continuing to abuse the patent litigation system to extort undeserved settlements from businesses of all sizes,” said Matt Tanielian Tanielian, executive director at the coalition, “but confirming a PTO director of Michelle Lee’s background and experience is an important and necessary step in strengthening our nation’s patent system.”

more from across site and ros bottom lb

More from across our site

We provide a rundown of Managing IP’s news and analysis coverage from the week, and review what’s been happening elsewhere in IP
Sukanya Sarkar shares her thoughts on this year’s annual meeting in Singapore, where debates ranged from AI opportunities to improving law firm culture
The court’s ruling is a good reminder that US parties aren’t guaranteed attorney fees just because they win, say sources
With business confidence in a shaky state, Rachel Tong and Lisa Yong of Rouse discuss how in-house IP teams can manage their trademark portfolios through uncertain times
The Court of Appeal had stern words for Med-El’s representatives after they highlighted a deputy judge’s background as a solicitor
Funders and NPEs say asserting patent portfolios can minimise risk at the USPTO’s PTAB, where procedure remains a controversial topic
The US Supreme Court’s ruling wasn’t a surprise and reflects a trend that had already been bubbling away for a while, say tech and pharma counsel
Previous attempts at major transatlantic tie-ups have failed, so lawyers will keep their eyes firmly on Allen & Overy’s grand plans
INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo shares his plans if he were to win the EUIPO leadership race and says his application does not affect his INTA role
The French finance minister told António Campinos the timing of an EPO event in Lisbon could be seen as interference in the EUIPO leadership race