The current de facto head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just moved one step closer to officially taking the job.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to OK the confirmation of Michelle Lee as undersecretary of Commerce for intellectual property and director of the patent office. Lee has served as the patent office’s deputy director since last year, but the agency has been without an official head since 2013.
“This position has been vacant for more than two years, which is far too long for an office that is so important to our nation’s innovators,” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the panel’s senior Democrat, said in a statement. “Ms. Lee has strong bipartisan support and I hope her confirmation will be taken up swiftly on the Senate floor.”
Many tech groups applauded Lee when the White House selected her for the post in October, and her nomination has seen support by key lawmakers. Even so, Lee went through two nearly identical confirmation hearings with the committee in as many months (one in December and one in January during the new session of Congress). At both hearings, she discussed the office’s efforts to address reports of fraud and abuse within its telework program.
Originally from the private sector, Lee worked as Google’s deputy general counsel, and head of patents and patent strategy between 2003 and 2012. She left Google to serve as USPTO’s first Silicon Valley office director.
Lee’s nomination now moves to the full Senate.