On Thursday, February 26, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Michelle Lee to serve as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was quick to urge the Senate to confirm Lee, who has been pending since last year. “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,” Leahy said. “Ms. Lee has strong bipartisan support and I hope her confirmation will be taken up swiftly on the Senate floor.”
Lee, who currently serves as the Deputy Director of the PTO and has been running the agency in the absence of a confirmed leader. Lee has been running the Office since her predecessor, Teresa Rea, stepped down as Acting Director in September 2013. There has not been a confirmed Director of the agency since President Obama accepted the resignation of David Kappos, who left the Office in January 2013.
Lee was nominated to the top position within the Office in October 2014. Lee had two confirmation hearings, one in December 2014, and another in January 2015. Democrats had hoped that Lee’s nomination would be taken up at the end of the 113th Congress, but at the start of the December 2014 confirmation hearing Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who was then Ranking Member but is now the Chair of the Committee, stated that Republicans would not move forward to rush confirming Lee. Further, given the vote would be held over until the 114th Congress Grassley indicated the second hearing would be necessary to give new members of the Committee an opportunity to ask questions of the nominees.