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.