In a move applauded by members of the tech industry, President Barack Obama has selected former Google Inc. executive Michelle Lee to lead the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The role has been vacant since David Kappos left the post in February 2013, though Lee has effectively led the agency since she was appointed deputy director in January. Lee’s nomination still must clear the Senate.
At Google, Lee was the deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy from 2003 to 2012. She departed Google to work as the director of the Silicon Valley Office for USPTO from 2012 to 2013. Earlier in her career, Lee was a partner at Fenwick & West LLP, where she specialized in advising several high-tech clients, according to the patent office’s website.
She received her bachelor’s and her master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from Stanford Law School.
Lee isn’t the first Google official to make the leap to the federal government. Just last month Obama selected Megan Smith, vice president of Google’s innovation platform, Google X, as the next federal chief technology officer.
Lee’s nomination comes as many tech companies have cried foul over so-called patent trolls, or companies whose primary purpose is to use patents to sue other companies for infringement. Recent congressional efforts to block such suits have stalled.
The Coalition for Patent Fairness, a group that counts giants like Google and BlackBerry Ltd. among its membership, released a statement in support of Lee.
“Michelle Lee will be an outstanding leader for the USPTO,” Matt Tanielian, the coalition’s executive director, said. “Michelle Lee has led the PTO on an interim basis through a important time and already implemented significant changes to improve patent quality and the post-grant review process. The President could not have made a better choice and we urge the Senate to quickly confirm this nomination.”
Jon Potter, president of the Application Developers Alliance, said in a release that Lee is “enormously qualified and has a strong understanding of the balance needed to protect ideas and put an end to the abusive tactics by patent trolls that are draining the economy and closing doors of [small] businesses.”
Elizabeth Hyman, executive vice president of public advocacy at TechAmerica, the public sector and public policy department of trade group CompTIA, also welcomed the news in an email.
“Michelle brings a rich background in technology that will surely aid her as she continues the important work of implementing the America Invents Act and builds out the much anticipated USPTO satellite offices to help the agency better connect with innovators in those regions,” she said.
Software and Information Industry Association Vice President of Public Policy Mark MacCarthy also issued a statement, commending the decision to fill the vacant spot.
“Lee is a well-regarded IP professional who will bring intelligence and needed leadership to this important role,” he said. “We look forward to her successful confirmation by the Senate and to working closely with her in her new position.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also congratulated Lee in a statement yesterday.
“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. “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.”