Patent office’s Lee: New post, big data will target patent quality

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USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee spoke at an event held by the Governance Studies unit at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. (USPTO)

Patent office chief Michelle Lee unveiled a spate of efforts to improve patent quality, including the creation of a new senior executive-level position, during a public appearance Thursday.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., Lee announced that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has selected its own Valencia Martin Wallace to serve as deputy commissioner for patent quality, a newly created position meant to bring a stronger focus on strategies to improve patent quality.

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Valencia Martin Wallace (USPTO)

Martin Wallace had served as the agency’s assistant deputy commissioner for patent operations, and she holds a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Howard University and a law degree from George Washington University.

Lee also announced the agency would roll out a general enhanced patent quality initiative, which she said would be featured in an upcoming Federal Register. And she said the patent office plans to hold a two-day patent quality summit, though the date has not yet been set.

“For too long, due to uncertain and limited financial resources, USPTO has had to make do with less,” she said. But now that the office can set its own fees following the American Innovation Act of 2011, the agency is in a better position to invest in ways to reform.

President Barack Obama nominated Lee late last year to serve as USPTO’s director, but Lee has essentially led the agency since she became the office’s deputy director a year ago. Lee has long advocated for improving patent quality as a means of making issued patents less susceptible to abusive intellectual property litigation, or “patent trolls.” Some in private industry have said the patent office’s efforts could also help cut into its 600,000-application backlog.

Speaking further on other efforts to improve patent quality, Lee also stressed the importance of gleaning information from big data.

“I’m a tech geek and someone with a computer background,” said Lee, who was Google’s first head of patents and patent strategy before she joined the government. “So, I’ve seen how businesses … are using big data to help improve their operations.”

Lee said the agency hopes to use big data to measure trends in the patent examination process. Then, she said, the agency could create modules for examiners to address shortcomings. She said there’s potential to measure the effect of the training the agency currently conducts and break findings down by technology sectors.

“We’re at our earlier stages on that,” she told FedScoop following the presentation. “These are part of our future long-term plans that involve IT development.”

Indeed, Lee touted the importance of improving the agency’s information technology to bolster patent quality. In particular, Lee said she’s excited about the agency’s work on Patents End-to-End, a computer program in development that would help examiners process applications more efficiently.

“We need to get modern-day tools to examiners,” she told FedScoop. “They have a tough job to do. We need to make it easier.”

Lee also talked about efforts to open satellite offices in Dallas, Detroit, Denver and Silicon Valley. Patent office staff told FedScoop that the agency would soon announce it hired Christal Sheppard as the new director of the Detroit office. Sheppard has served on the agency’s Patent Public Advisory Committee.

Lee spoke briefly about the agency’s telework program both during and following the event, mainly reiterating remarks she made during her confirmation hearing Wednesday. Last year, reports of time fraud tarnished the reputation of the award-winning program. Lee emphasized the importance of telework to the agency and highlighted an independent review of the program that the office had commissioned. The results are due out in May.

“Our telework program has been critical to the success of the agency and has an important role to play going forward,” she said.

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Commerce Department, Departments, Government IT News, Michelle Lee, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), workforce
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