Although the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) continues to decline comment on the status of Michelle Lee, as of 6:43pm EST on Monday, January 23, 2017, the Commerce Department staff webpage lists Lee as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. (see screenshot) However, the Commerce Department leadership webpage continues to list the position of USPTO Director as “Vacant.” (see screenshot) If you click through to Michelle Lee’s staff page on the Commerce website you see that her page was last updated on March 24, 2015. (see screenshot)
Mention of Lee as Director of the USPTO on the Commerce staff website is the first “official” statement spotted, if you will, by the Trump Administration that Director Lee will be held over. There is some question, however, about whether this staff page has been changed or whether it has continued to show Michelle Lee as USPTO Director all along. Some reports from IPWatchdog readers suggest that this page has not been changed since prior to President Trump taking office.
Up until now the only real, confirmable statement suggesting that Lee will remain Director has come from Congressman Darrell Issa at a breakfast of tech industry leaders on Thursday, January 19, 2017. Unfortunately, with the USPTO continuing to decline comment, the USPTO not making an announcement, and the Commerce Department website contradicting itself, the status of Michelle Lee continues to be a mystery.
Sources have also told me that inquiries about the status of Michelle Lee made by the staff of Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, went unanswered at least through Friday, January 20, 2017.
What we do know at this time seems to be the following:
- Michelle Lee has made it known for months that she wanted to stay on as Director.
- Wilbur Ross, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, told Senators at his confirmation hearing that he met with Michelle Lee on Tuesday, January 17, 2017.
- On Thursday, January 19, 2017, Congressman Darrell Issa told a breakfast meeting of tech business leaders that President Trump had decided to hold over Michelle Lee as PTO Director.
- NIH Director Francis Collins was held over by President Trump, which was announced by NIH on Thursday, January 19, 2017.
- Sources indicated that an announcement that Michelle Lee would be held over by President Trump could come as early at Thursday, January 19, 2017.
- On Friday, January 20, 2017, the USPTO declined to comment on whether Michelle Lee is still PTO Director.
- On Friday, January 20, 2017, the Commerce Department leadership page listed the position of PTO Director as “Vacant.” (see screenshot)
- Sometime on Friday, January 20, 2017, staffers from the office of Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who Chairs the House Judiciary Committee, made inquiries about the status of Michelle Lee. These inquiries were unanswered.
- The Commerce Department leadership page was updated sometime between Friday afternoon, January 19, 2017, and Saturday morning, January 21, 2017, but continue to list the position of USPTO Director as vacant. (see screenshot)
- On Monday, January 23, 2017, the USPTO continued to decline comment on the status of Michelle Lee, whether she is currently employed by the Office or what her position may be if she is. Comment was also declined with respect to the name that will appear on issued patents on Tuesday, January 23, 2017. By law the Director’s signature must be affixed to issued patents.
- Sometime mid-day on Monday, January 23, 2017, it was noticed that the Commerce Department staff webpage lists Michelle Lee as USPTO Director, although there is some question about whether this page was updated or remains unchanged since President Trump was sworn into Office.
- As of 6:41pm ET on Monday, January 23, 2017, the Department of Commerce leadership page continues to list the position of USPTO Director as “Vacant.” (see screenshot)
- As of 6:47pm ET on Monday, January 23, 2017, there seems to have been official announcement made that Michelle Lee remains Director, will be nominated as Director, or has been held over by President Trump.
- All major news outlets have reported that Michelle Lee will remain as PTO Director. These reports seem to almost exclusively parrot each other and rely upon Issa’s statement to tech leaders on Thursday.
- The USPTO leadership page continues to show Michelle Lee as Director as of 6:49pm ET on Monday, January 21, 2017 (see screenshot). This page is known to be out of date, listing several political appointees that resigned and left the USPTO earlier this week (i.e., Vikrum Aiyer and Patrick Ross, for example).
- Russ Slifer resigned as Deputy Director on January 20, 2017.
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