Patent Office finally confirms Michelle Lee is Director of the USPTO

By Gene Quinn
March 10, 2017

Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee, Director of the USPTO

On January 26, 2017, attorney Gary Shuster filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (FOIA Request No. F-17-00099) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The request was rather simple. Generally speaking, Shuster was looking for information on the status of Michelle Lee. More specifically, Shuster wanted information on who might be Director or Acting Director of the USPTO.

Initially, the USPTO stonewalled Shuster, invoking an additional 10 work day extension to respond to the FOIA request due to unusual circumstances.

By letter dated March 10, 2017, the USPTO responded to Mr. Shuster’s FOIA request by informing him that “Michelle K. Lee is the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.” This is the first confirmation from anyone at the USPTO, or from anyone within the Executive Branch. There still has not been an official announcement from the USPTO, Department of Commerce, or White House. Up until today the best evidence that Lee remained as Director had been that she allowed herself to be introduced as “Director of the USPTO” at an industry event and gave opening remarks at the most recent PPAC public meeting. See Michelle Lee opens PPAC meeting at USPTO, introduced as Director at PTAB Bar luncheon.

Shuster’s FOIA request asked for a variety of documents, but then offered a simple alternative: “[Y]ou may satisfy this request by simply answering the following question: Who is the current director or acting director of the USPTO?”

The letter received by Shuster says:

“While there is no requirement under the FOIA to answer a question, as a matter of administrative discretion, the Agency is responding that Michelle K. Lee is the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.”

At some point the story will be told about why it took 7 weeks for the Office to make a statement regarding the Director, and why the statement only came as the result of a FOIA request. But the more immediate question now becomes: How long will Michelle Lee remain Director of the USPTO?

An aide to Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA) reportedly told Politico over the last day: “We think there are enough pieces at play that suggest that it’s not a done deal,” referring to the prospects that Lee would remain as head of the USPTO moving forward. The aide went on to say that the agency “needs new blood.” According to the Politico report, the Congressman Collins’ aide also cited concerns that Lee may be ignoring President Trump’s Executive Order on reducing the number of regulations, an issue raised here by US Inventor. Collins is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and Vice-Chair of the IP subcommittee.

 

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 31 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Independent Inventor March 10, 2017 6:43 pm

    Ugh.

  2. Deep throat March 10, 2017 7:56 pm

    I find it interesting that they waited so long to announce it. As I understand it, this was essentially an open secret at the executive staff level for sometime now.

    This is complete speculation, but I wonder if the PTO was waiting to see if she was going to be offered a different position in the Trump administration.

  3. patent leather March 10, 2017 11:42 pm

    This is terrible!

  4. Anon March 11, 2017 8:10 am

    Word play is definitely in action, and the response is heavily couched in “plausible deniability”

    To wit:

    1) “The agency’s response” – which means (given that the head of that agency is not certain, and is the focal point of the question), well, nothing – at least nothing “official” that cannot be easily hand waved away in that the agency is not the Executive member that can give the “official version.”

    2) “as a matter of administrative discretion” – the FOIA request is a request for ACTUAL state. The actual state is not a matter of administrative discretion, and the use of that weasel term veritably screams that the reply is intended to be able to be changed or downplayed as some sort of “best guess” depending on factors either being resolved or being buried.

    If anything else, this is the exact type of answer that should prompt a deeper look into what has been transpiring – and it is more than clear that something IS transpiring (else a straight forward answer would have been given on day 1).

  5. Anon March 11, 2017 8:15 am

    …let me add that Gary Shuster’s FOIA request was not the only request out there, and the “piggy-backing” of the response of “as a matter of administrative discretion” may in some sense “weasel” out on Mr. Shuster’s “alternate answer” path, that phrase is NOT in accord with the FOIA requirements to those who pressed for answers and did not provide such an “out.”

    To those other FOIA requests, we can now add the violation of terms of providing a timely answer, as the answer to Mr. Shuster will not satisfy as an answer to the other requests that lack the “simple out” avenue.

  6. Night Writer March 11, 2017 8:40 am

    What a nightmare. So, drain the swamp means get rid of those varmint called inventors. All hail the corporate state! All hail the apparatchik Lee!

    And, yuck what a foul person Lee is. Bought and paid for and her mind is filled with so many contradictions and contortions to get the results Google wants. Yuck. Google forever apparently. All they have to do is consume any innovation that occurs and copy.

  7. Anon March 11, 2017 9:16 am

    To my point at post 4, David Boundy on Patently-O remarked as to the disparity of someone else’s pure document request under the FOIA and the “answer” (lacking any such actual document) with:

    The request asked for a “document” (a FOIA request can only request documents, in the manner of a request to produce documents, not a question in the manner of an interrogatory).

    The letter responds as if it were an interrogatory.

    The game playing (as self-evident) in an extremely couched answer may suffice here in reply to Mr. Shuster, seeing as Mr. Shuster allowed for such an alternative path – but such game playing does NOT suffice to answer other FOIA requests that seek a more dispositive (and un-gamed) reply.

    This is the type of “scrivening” that gives scrivening a bad name.

    And this by no means should be an end to the inquiry. Rather, this simply confirms that something is amiss. If nothing were amiss, these types of games simply would not be engaged in.

  8. FOIAMaster March 11, 2017 10:07 am

    No comes the time to litigate the FOIA request, as it is plainly a deficient response.

  9. JPM March 11, 2017 10:13 am

    This is very bad news for inventors. Hopefully Michelle Lee will be replaced with someone who is pro-patent rights very soon.

    Michelle Lee is the definition of the swamp. She is Google’s former attorney and represents the best interests of Google and the infringer lobby. If she winds up being the permanent USPTO director we can all expect patent values to remain decimated as she strengthens the PTAB kangaroo court which has been killing patents at an 80% rate.

    Hopefully, the Trump administration will replace her with someone else who will shutdown the PTAB kangaroo court.

  10. angry dude March 11, 2017 11:52 am

    just like I told you:

    The doc said ‘to the morgue’, to the morgue it is!

    It’s time to shut down USPTO, fire all those useless patent examiners and patent attorneys and enjoy the rest of our lives

  11. Bemused March 11, 2017 12:32 pm

    Folks, I’m going to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt here and bet that Lee will not remain as the USPTO director for very long. Two reasons for my (hopefully, not misplaced) optimism/wait-and-see-attitude:

    First, this new administration is systematically culling the hold-overs from the previous administration. There have been widely reported problems between the current administration and these hold-overs. I can’t imagine Lee is going to be impervious to that type of scrutiny. Particularly, since Silicon Valley/Google was/is wildly antagonistic to this administration.

    Second, this is a new administration which is being spear-headed by a political novice(s). They are scrambling to get their arms around this vast apparatus known as the federal bureaucracy. As much as we would wish it otherwise, patents and intellectual property are not a priority (yet) when there are so many other changes being implemented (e.g. immigration, tax reform, healthcare reform, etc) by this new administration.

    Give President Trump some time and breathing room. After all, this new administration has been in office for all of about 50 days. They’ll get to Lee/the USPTO and when they do, I’ll wager (a cup of coffee) that Lee’s tenure as the director will come to a quick end.

    B

  12. Night Writer March 11, 2017 3:04 pm

    G*d, what a nightmare. It isn’t going to end. The erosion of patent rights and is here to stay.

    Bemused if that is true why not just accept her letter and let someone else be acting director? I think that is what happened with Doodoo.

  13. Night Writer March 11, 2017 4:28 pm

    When the picture above was taken, Director Lee was saying, “The patent right cannot be any bigger than this or Google will have my head.”

  14. Edward Heller March 12, 2017 7:51 am

    Unless the Justice Department is in total control of the brief, the first test of whether Michelle Lee has switched sides is the Oil States brief that the Supreme Court asked her to file. The issue of course is whether patents are public rights or private property, and whether patents might be revoked without a trial in a court with access to a jury as were the rights of patent owners at common law.

  15. step back March 12, 2017 12:08 pm

    “Revoked”?

    You mean stolen.

  16. Mark Nowotarski March 12, 2017 1:22 pm

    Bemused,

    I like your logic.

  17. Curious March 12, 2017 4:33 pm

    Bemused — you are probably correct. How long did it take Trump to ask for all the US Attorneys to resign?

    I still suspect there is an off chance that she could remain on because she has some Republicans in here camp. However, she is an Obama appointee and a tool of Google — that isn’t going to help her.

  18. Anon2 March 13, 2017 9:16 am

    I guess they “lost” her letter of resignation before it “was” “accepted”.

    Move along. Nothing to see here….

  19. SV Inventor March 13, 2017 11:48 am

    I’m inclined to agree with @Bemused. Lee is the director until Trump fires her. It’s just a matter of time. He has more pressing business right now but he will get around to USPTO policies and staff. Unlike the previous administration, he is not beholden to special interests, e.g., Google, Facebook, et al. Perhaps more tellingly, he has a flair for the dramatic and wants to make his own mark. When Lee is fired (it’s just a matter of time), it will come as part of a bigger announcement about new IP policy and directives. One can only hope that means repealing AIA and replacing Lee with an advocate for the patent holder who works out of a garage instead of a corner office at a new corporate campus in Silicon Valley.

  20. Anon March 13, 2017 11:53 am

    Anon2,

    Careful there – that is exactly the type of “no sunshine” that the game playing evident in the (too) careful legal language used in the answers to the FOIA requests want you to walk away with.

    It is not – and should not – be that simple.

  21. Anon2 March 13, 2017 12:51 pm

    Anon@20

    Agreed. My sarcasm did not make itself as evident as intended.

  22. IPdude March 13, 2017 12:52 pm

    Perhaps the appointment of Scott Gottlieb today is a foreshadowing of what Trump will do with the USPTO. It seems like a favorable appointment for big pharma. Hopefully Trump will be consistent with appointing a similar lead for the patent office. Only problem is Lee has an opportunity now to respond to SCOTUS on private/public rights before Trump makes a new appointment. This may have been the plan with Lee/Google: to hold over, while there is chaos, and try to do as much damage before being fired.

  23. angry dude March 13, 2017 2:21 pm

    SV Inventor @19

    The one and only change to IP policy needed is to criminalize willful and deliberate patent infringement by corporate execs
    Just put couple of those m*f**s in jail for a month and they’ll be a lot more proactive in seeking patent licences as opposed to “efficient” infringement
    Copyright cases can be criminal after all – why not patent cases then ?

  24. Anon March 13, 2017 7:53 pm

    Angry dude,

    I too have wondered why we have the disparity (especially on willful infringement) between copyright and patent.

    Then again, one only has to take a glance towards Hollywood way to see established entities with plenty of $$$ speaking.

  25. angry dude March 14, 2017 12:00 am

    Anon @24

    Me thinks Hollywood is out of favor (to put it very mildly) with the Trump administration

  26. Anon March 14, 2017 9:18 am

    Angry dude – there is hope then in that division.

  27. SV inventor March 14, 2017 1:16 pm

    Angry dude @23, I don’t think jail time for these execs is necessary, but I do think an infringed patent holder should be able to send a “cease and desist” letter that will be backed up by the feds. If one exec goes to jail while the other board members and shareholders continue to reap the rewards of infringement, they’ll just hire a new exec and continue the same behavior. But if shipments (or downloads) of their product are seized, their website is shut down and the revenues dry up, watch how fast the company will be ready to pay license and royalty fees!

  28. angry dude March 14, 2017 2:39 pm

    SV inventor @27

    I honestly don’t think they will restore full injunctions – too late for that, willful patent infringement liabilities and stock market exposure of those SV tech giants are simply enormous…

    But putting a few of those a@$hOles in jail after court trial and court witness depositions confirming under oath that some exec dude made such decision and told his engineers to implement stuff from that loser’s patent – that’s what I call wilfull and deliberate infringement, not some accidental re-invention (which can happen too but not often at all if patent is valid)
    That type of behavior should be treated like they treat software crackers etc or any type of willful deliberate unlawful reproduction and distribution of copyrighted materials (movies, books etc) for ill-gotten profits – I see no difference there

    Jail time for a few (all others will learn instantly) is better than Nasdaq crash
    Not that I care much at this point but that’s what I would do if I were Trump:
    save the stock market and punish very few select individuals

  29. Eric Berend March 17, 2017 6:17 am

    By what lawful process, has this become legitimately established? The only circumstance that presently fits known facts, is that the letter of resignation supposedly submitted upon the termination of the previous administration, was either never actually tendered, or never actually accepted; either of which would, as noted here before, be an unprecedented exception in recent times to the practices a system that has seen only occasional change: “to the victors o the spoils” was the cry with Pres. Jackson in 1828; and “Reform, Reform!” in with Garfield and his successor Chet Aurthur and the passage of the Pendleton Act

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/18/politics/temporary-cabinet-trump/
    In response to an inquiry by CNN, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce pointed to compliance with the Vacancies Reform Act (of 1998). As a general matter, the issue of vacant posts at important Federal Agencies, is not new:

    https://law.yale.edu/system/files/area/workshop/leo/document/AOConnell_VacantOfficesforYLS.pdf

    At Commerce, this ‘circle the wagons’ state-secret mentality, of absolutely no reliable information being released; even for a publicly required right of access; is not restricted to the USPTO alone.

  30. me June 6, 2017 5:15 pm

    She submitted her letter of resignation today. That didn’t last long.

Post a Comment

Respectfully add to the discussion.

Name *
Email *
Website