U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has announced the appointment of Michelle K. Lee as the next Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Lee currently serves as the Director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office and will begin her new role at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA, on January 13, 2014.
While Director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office, Lee established a temporary office in Menlo Park and working with California’s Congressional, state, and local leadership to successfully secure a permanent office location in San Jose. Beyond the Silicon Valley office, Lee has also played a broader role in helping shape key policy matters impacting the nation’s intellectual property (IP) system, focusing closely on efforts to continually strengthen patent quality, as well as curbing abusive patent litigation. Prior to becoming Director of the Silicon Valley USPTO, Lee served two terms on the USPTO’s Patent Public Advisory Committee, whose members are appointed by the U.S. Commerce Secretary and serve to advise the USPTO on its policies, goals, performance, budget and user fees.
“Michelle Lee has proven herself to be a tremendous asset to the USPTO and the Department of Commerce,” said Secretary Penny Pritzker in a USPTO press release. “She has a great mix of skills and experiences to assume this leadership position during a time when the administration is deeply focused on strengthening the nation’s intellectual property system. And her years of working in the IP community, both in the private and public sectors, will support the key focus on innovation and the digital economy in the Commerce Department’s new ‘Open for Business’ policy agenda. I look forward to working with her in her new capacity.”
An engineer and attorney by training, Lee has developed a distinguished career over the past 25 years focused on various key facets of patent law, technology, and innovation policy in private practice, industry, and the executive and judicial branches of the federal government. Prior to joining the USPTO, Lee 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 specialized in advising a wide range of high-technology clients from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies on all aspects of patent law, intellectual property, litigation and corporate matters. Prior to her career as a legal advisor to technology companies, Lee worked in the federal judiciary, serving as a law clerk for the Honorable Vaughn R. Walker on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the Honorable Paul R. Michel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Before building her legal career, Lee worked as a computer scientist at Hewlett-Packard Research Laboratories, as well as at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She holds a B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from M.I.T., as well as a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
Upon assuming her role as USPTO Deputy Director, Lee will perform the functions and duties of the USPTO Director, a position that is currently vacant. She will assume the title of “Acting Director” once President Obama nominates a Director.
After Lee begins her new role in January, John Cabeca, a 25-year veteran of the USPTO, will serve as the Director of the Silicon Valley satellite office until the permanent office in San Jose City Hall becomes operational. Cabeca is currently the Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO and a former Semiconductor Technology Center Director.
Denis Crouch, professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and editor of the respected PatentlyO blog, however, has posed a question as to whether Lee can be appointed to deputy director given the lack of a director to nominate her. In a blog post, Crouch wrote: "[T]he statute requires that a Deputy Director be appointed by the Secretary of Commerce 'upon nomination by the [USPTO] Director.' 35 USC § 3. Because there is no Director, there could be no such nomination." The Commissioner of Patents at the USPTO, Peggy Focarino, has been handling all the duties of the director, had nominated Lee,and the secretary of commerce then selected her as Deputy Director.