USPTO Director Michelle Lee Resigns

Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee, Director of the USPTO

Earlier today, shortly after 4pm ET, Michelle Lee sent an e-mail (see below) to employees of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) notifying recipients that she had submitted a letter of resignation.

There is no word at this hour about who will replace Lee, or whether her resignation will take place effective immediately, although the e-mail sent to USPTO employees does seem to suggest that Lee’s time at the USPTO is over.

Former Chief Financial Officer Anthony Scardino has been filling the role of Acting Deputy Director of the USPTO for several months. Although no confirmation has been received from the Communications Department of the Patent Office it would seem logical to assume he would become Acting Director or the USPTO once Lee’s resignation is effective.

Lee’s e-mail to employees of the USPTO, sent with the subject “Farewell,” reads as follows:

Dearest Colleagues:

This afternoon, I submitted my letter of resignation from my position as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

It has been a tremendous honor to serve our country for the past several years, first as Director of the Silicon Valley office, then as Deputy Director of the USPTO, and finally as Director of the USPTO. I am tremendously proud of all that we have accomplished together, and appreciate all of your support and dedication during my tenure.

It is no exaggeration to say that the employees of the USPTO rival the best employees of any government agency or private company. The USPTO truly is a “best place to work”– because of you.

I am confident that the leadership team in place will serve you well during this transition.  In the meantime, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors at the USPTO.

With affection and deep gratitude,

—Michelle

Currently, there are few details which would help us understand why Lee resigned, including why she resigned at this time. The Washington Post reported that a USPTO spokesperson has confirmed that Lee submitted a letter of resignation, but would give no additional comment.

The employment status of Michelle Lee has been murky ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. President. In the days just prior to Trump’s inauguration, reports broke that Lee was either refusing to resign as USPTO director or was attempting to revoke a letter of resignation handed in to former-President Barack Obama. On January 19th, the day before the Trump inauguration, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said that Lee would stay on as director under Trump in an address to tech industry representatives gathered in Washington. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, Lee was listed as USPTO director on the USPTO’s website while that same position of USPTO director was listed as vacant on the Department of Commerce’s website.

Getting a clear answer from the USPTO on the employment status of Michelle Lee has not been simple. Both the USPTO and the Department of Commerce had declined to speak on the record about Lee’s status through the middle of February. The whole time, Lee’s signature continued to be seen on issued patents and other official documents coming out of the USPTO. On March 10th, the USPTO responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Lee’s employment status, finally confirming that she was indeed remaining on as director. By late March, news had broken that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had interviewed candidates to replace Lee as USPTO director.

Lee’s resignation comes after she had solicited support from industry allies to encourage the federal government to retain her as director, according to an industry source cited by The Hill. Those efforts reportedly culminated in a letter supporting Lee as USPTO director dated April 25th and addressed to Trump and Ross. The letter was signed by dozens of tech industry organizations including Amazon.com, Cisco, Google, Intel, Salesforce.com, as well as lobbying firms such as Engine and the Internet Association.

The sudden and perhaps mysterious nature of Lee’s resignation isn’t surprising given the lack of responsiveness from the USPTO on a variety of matters. The agency cited unusual circumstances as a reason to delay its response to attorney Gary Shuster’s FOIA request on Lee’s employment status, an extraordinarily peculiar response to a straightforward question on the employment status of a government official.

UPDATE 1 @ 9:17pm ET

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.

Gene Quinn

Steve Brachmann is a writer located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He has become a regular contributor to IPWatchdog.com, writing about technology, innovation and is the primary author of the Companies We Follow series. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients.

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Discuss this

There are currently 38 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Curious June 6, 2017 6:19 pm

    Its a re-post, but it deserves to be here. To follow up on the grand news of the day, I suspect it was probably communicated to Lee that she is no longer in the running for retaining her position. For that reason, she decided that it was time to leave as she has no real reason to stay.

    Of course, if she was committed to the USPTO and what it stood for, she could have stayed on until her successor was named and confirmed, which would have eased the transition, but I guess that was too much to ask. However, I don’t begrudge her for wanting to get paid. Any thoughts as to where she ends up? In house? A law firm? A think tank?

  2. Time Is Now To Act June 6, 2017 6:50 pm

    Curious @ 1

    She attended the TED conference in Vancouver late April along with the rest of the SV gang. I doubt she was there in representation of the PTO or with a view she would be further retained. Rather, as you aptly put it she was ‘wanting to get paid’.

  3. Roger June 6, 2017 6:53 pm

    Well that’s a shame.

  4. Night Writer June 6, 2017 7:10 pm

    Let’s follow Lee and see how much Google pays her for her service.

  5. Paul Morinville June 6, 2017 7:34 pm

    Good. I was painfully thinking we may have to deal with her for the next four years. As a person, I like her. I wish her well and hope she lands well. As a PTO Director, she was truly awful.

  6. Bemused June 6, 2017 7:40 pm

    Best news I’ve read/heard in a long time! Sure we can end up with another anti-patent USPTO director but I’m cautiously optimistic the next director will help swing the pendulum back a bit. Keeping my fingers crossed…

  7. angry dude June 6, 2017 7:57 pm

    Good riddance

    she must go to china to ruin their patent system – not gonna happen unfortunately

  8. The Time Is Now To Act June 6, 2017 8:08 pm

    Paul @ 4

    Ditto re Lee.

    Appreciate your vigilance and that of others fighting for ALL inventors in DC; without which we as U.S. patent owners would be dead in the water as opposed to badly hurt (and such injuries nationwide are horrible in and of themselves, did not need to be, served the needs of only a few, is Anti-American, Anti-Innovation, and did not need to be).

    Now, we need to intensify the pro-patent movement even more. I personally would think it valuable to the patent community if you could write and post an article here outlining how to get more vocally or financially involved in the pro-patent movement.

    Perhaps Gene would be supportive of such a post.

  9. Pro Se June 6, 2017 8:26 pm

    Please… Send the inventors and the righteous innovators someone who’s going to help American patent reliant innovation get back on track.

  10. PatentSense June 6, 2017 8:36 pm

    YES!!! Any change in USPTO leadership is positive. Scardino: Fix the PTAB and bring back some respect to patent claims.

  11. Repeal and replace PTAB June 6, 2017 8:41 pm

    Good. The PTAB and court decisions have gone too too far to weaken this critical PROPERTY right. Even if Lee’s accountability is low, did she show courage to stand up for the integrity of strong rights?

  12. Ghost Rider June 6, 2017 9:08 pm

    who the heck quits on a tuesday?

  13. Webster June 6, 2017 11:00 pm

    Almost as mentally unstable as Trump.

  14. patent leather June 6, 2017 11:45 pm

    Normally I would say this is good news, but I worry about who Trump might appoint!

  15. Steve June 7, 2017 5:19 am

    If Phil Johnson or ex-CAFC Chief Rader take over, it will be a blessing

  16. Eric Berend June 7, 2017 6:01 am

    At this advanced state of irreparable harm, acknowledging the belated departure of one of the most effective U.S. patent destroyers ever, by any inventor – is akin to having a quadriplegic manage to lift a hand to wave ‘good riddance’: what’s the point?

  17. Luis Figarella June 7, 2017 6:35 am

    Well, I guess the SECOND time, it got accepted? Y’all may recall the issue with the patents issued post Jan 20th until the situation was ‘normalized’? I sure do, I had a client with one of the ‘who’s the legal USPTO director’ issued on Jan 31st.

    I have another one issuing on June 20th, can’t wait to see who signs it!!!

    LuF

  18. Night Writer June 7, 2017 7:12 am

    patent leather: I agree. I just don’t think Trump understands any of this. For all we know, Trump may have a late night with a Google lobbyist that convinces Trump to completely dismantle the patent system.

  19. Eric Berend June 7, 2017 7:17 am

    Since Prof. Couch’s blog at Patently-O blatantly censors dissenting opinions unless he thinks it’s an established attorney, I will post that blocked comment “in the alternative”, here:

    https://patentlyo.com/patent/2017/06/michelle-resigns-director.htm:

    “This discussion amounts to little more than speculation as to where the best positions for deck chairs on the Titanic, might be.

    The IP pirates’ interests have won so handsomely in the U.S., that in their zeal to steal anything actual inventors can create, the house got burned down; and the keys to the store, handed to China.

    All you corrupt communistic (” ‘YOU’ didn’t invent that. The ‘COMMUNITY’ would eventually have, anyway”) sycophants will eventually slither away into your rat-holes, made fabulously comfortable by the IP and SV pirates’ thirty pieces of silver, for each of you. Ok – for the above-and-beyond job done by Ms. Lee – that might be 300 pieces from AlphaGoog’s $86B warchest (“Goood girl!!”).

    In the future, your children and descendants will be ordered around by robots controlled in Chinese Mandarin. Those of us actually able to provide a better and different path, DO NOT deserve to go down with the rest of you idiotic fools.

    Unfortunately, the infringers’ Ahab-like obsession with destroying inventors, has succeeded most impressively; and it is much more likely that we’ll all become drowned in the coming maelstrom, like the Pequod (modeled after the real-life Essex).”

    The truth, was just too painful for that coward. Stalin would have approved.

  20. David Michaels June 7, 2017 7:19 am

    Do you think that USPTO Director Michelle Lee resigned over flack for the PTAB’s aggressive stance over low quality patent registrations? Did Trump tell her to change the PTAB’s stance? The comments above indicate that many inventors felt aggrieved.

  21. Night Writer June 7, 2017 8:07 am

    @17 Well said. We know where they are going to go. They are all buying land in New Zealand.

  22. Curious June 7, 2017 8:38 am

    Since Prof. Couch’s blog at Patently-O blatantly censors dissenting opinions unless he thinks it’s an established attorney
    He censors attorneys as well. I poked him enough times to get banned from his site [taking a bow]. However, he is more than happy to provide a platform to serial muckrakers like MM (a real patent blog troll).

  23. angry dude June 7, 2017 8:54 am

    Eric Berend@19

    “…your children and descendants will be ordered around by robots controlled in Chinese Mandarin”

    Already happens

    I was buying some cutting edge VR tech from China lately

    instructions in Chinese, installation menus in Chinese… go figure it out..

    Not that they can’t afford good English translator – they simply do not care for US anymore

  24. Night Writer June 7, 2017 9:25 am

    @23: Not that they can’t afford good English translator – they simply do not care for US anymore

    That is the real kicker isn’t it? We are going to have to learn Chinese to hope to keep up with them. One of my Chinese American friends who is a tenured professor at one of the top universities in the US was telling me the other day that he is thinking of going back. He said he thinks the US is slipping into third world status and he really doesn’t want to live in a place like this.

    If China adopts real reforms such as a free press, then we are really in for it.

  25. EG June 7, 2017 9:26 am

    “Lee will be known as a stabilizing force – managing the agency during these tumultuous post-AIA and post-ALICE years. Although critics suggest that she is not sufficiently pro-patent-property-rights, the PTO has continued to issue a record-number of patents each year.”

    Hey Gene,

    A statement from that other so-called “patent blog” about Lee’s resignation. When read this statement, I almost was ready to puke-what a bunch of utter malarkey, and fairly typical of what that other so-called “patent blog” spews.

  26. EG June 7, 2017 9:31 am

    “As Director of the USPTO. I am tremendously proud of all that we have accomplished together.”

    Hey Gene,

    I also was ready to gag on this statement by Lee-what a bunch of disingenuous nonsense. Good riddance to finally have her out as Director of the USPTO.

  27. Night Writer June 7, 2017 9:37 am

    @25&26 EG: well said.

  28. EG June 7, 2017 9:40 am

    “He censors attorneys as well. I poked him enough times to get banned from his site [taking a bow]. However, he is more than happy to provide a platform to serial muckrakers like MM (a real patent blog troll).”

    Hey Curious,

    Bully for you to be banned by the so-called “patent blog”! I finally got tired of the verbal vitriol hurled at me by MM, as well as Dennis’ biased and totally ineffective screening of comments (including his non-responsive or no response to my e-mails to him on that subject) that I’ve completely quit posting any comments on that so-called “patent blog”-it’s an utter “cesspool” as far as I’m concerned which is unfortunate as it does have some thought provoking posts, but you can’t have civil debate/discussion about them at all with the “no holds barred” and biased monitoring of the comments that are posted to it.

  29. Mathematician June 7, 2017 9:58 am

    Mr. Berend,

    While article comments are not the proper place, I’m curious if you have links to some resources arguing the nuances of your case.

    My field of mathematics has history littered with independent, near simultaneous codiscoery of important ideas and techniques. Most science fields proffer a similar story, so I find it curious that invention framed in a business context would be so radically different?

    Thanks for your time.

  30. Gene Quinn June 7, 2017 10:03 am

    EG @25-

    In an odd way I suppose you could say that Lee was a very stabilizing force on the USPTO. She stabilized the patent system in a space where there is distrust, disinterest, apathy and eroding rights. She leaves a very steady ship that is undeniably headed in a downward direction.

    As for the USPTO issuing more patents than ever and that being some evidence that she is not anti-patent, that is just plain ignorant. The USPTO under Lee has declared war on software and much biotechnology, which is the backbone of the US innovation economy. Anyone who knows anything about the patent system AND is interested in being objective knows that Lee is anti-patent. There can be no serious or legitimate debate. All you have to do is read her speeches. She hasn’t hidden it at all, as we’ve documented here.

    See:

    http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2017/02/02/michelle-lees-patent-quality-reality/id=77158/

    http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2017/05/17/past-prologue-hope-americas-patent-system/id=83347/

  31. Night Writer June 7, 2017 10:20 am

    @29: I think we all owe Gene a debt for objectively evaluating Lee.

  32. SV Inventor June 7, 2017 10:44 am

    Do any of you have insight into how this news will impact the value of patents short term? Any chance for increased spend or budget allowance in buying IP this year or next? Any uptick for brokerage or values of patents? I recognize the longer-term challenges, but that is not my question.

  33. Night Writer June 7, 2017 11:53 am

    @31 SV Inventor: It will depend on who Trump appoints. The Trump appointment will likely tell us what direction legislation will go and what direction future appointments to the CAFC will go. The bigger problem is probably the CAFC which now has a large number of political appointments selected by Google who are very anti-patent.

  34. Flippy June 7, 2017 12:53 pm

    If the likes of Amazon, Cisco, Intel, Google (no surprise) et al., which I will refer to collectively as institutional infringers and anti-patent evangelicals supported Lee, you can bet her departure will be good for the American patent system.

  35. Flippy June 7, 2017 1:03 pm

    Senator Leahy sold the American patent system out to China (check his donor list) about 6 years ago.

    AIA should be repealed.

  36. SV Inventor June 7, 2017 2:20 pm

    @33 Night Writer, yes there are much bigger problems that will not easily be addressed, e.g., SCOTUS decisions that have really hurt patent valuation. But this resignation is a quite visible development as USPTO news goes. If I was the IP director at a big tech company looking for increased budget/spend, I would fold this into a strong presentation to the executives/beancounters to show them that the pendulum is starting to swing the other way and patents could soon be hugely valuable and make or break certain business divisions. All it takes is the perception of this shift, two or three big companies on a run-up of patent families and voila, you have a market bubble. I’m not saying it will happen, but I think it’s possible and looking for other input.

  37. The Time Is Now To Act June 7, 2017 2:47 pm

    @32 SV Inventor & @33 Night Writer – to add to Night Writer’s comment, the patent licensing and acquisition market will trend in the positive direction once gang tackling in IPRs are eliminated, title on patents upon issue is clear and the APJs are reined in.

    Today, buyers just don’t have a reason to do anything other than wait for the asset to reach its cheapest point. And, the patents that even make it to consideration are strikingly few in number. Such is the legacy of the AIA, PTAB and Lee’s paid for implementation of only the section of the law she saw fit to enforce.

    That she used absolutely NONE of her discretionary power under AIA to protect patent owners from IPR Gang Tackling is telling in and of itself. Clearly, she received orders from HQ in SV to attempt to stay on board and won a temporary extension. As has been written by others, it is very likely the reason for *immediate* departure was that she learned she was no longer in the running for the appointment. Her so called commitment to the American inventor lasted exactly as long as her and her supporters hope that she would be the continued appointee. Michelle to PTO: ‘Hey, good luck with that transition. I’m out.’

    So, the (long but may not so long) path to re-establishment of value and curtailment of efficient infringement per Gene and former PTO COO:

    1) Presumption of Validity

    2) If we have to have post grant proceedings and a PTAB then all parties and their privies get 1 and then the issue is settled. Abolish PTAB? Ok by me.

    3) APJs MUST have an Article III strength Code of Ethics for their appointments ESPECIALLY because they WILL return to the private sector and certain APJs have ALREADY behaved in a manner that would not pass muster for a Federal Judge.

    4) The PTO and its DIRECTOR *must* stand behind the PTOs work and reinforce the investment thesis for those seeking patents NOT those seeking to invalidate IP.

    What gives me a small spark of hope is that the above 4 items can (and should be) accomplished with a Patriotic and Pro-Patent Director of the PTO.

    So, Ok, Mr. Ross! Loved your bland statement regarding Michelle Lee’s tenure and departure. Totally agree! Can’t wait to hear your selection!

  38. angry dude June 7, 2017 4:21 pm

    Mathematician @29

    “My field of mathematics has history littered with independent, near simultaneous codiscoery of important ideas and techniques. Most science fields proffer a similar story”

    Complete nonsense

    So what is your field anyway ???

    Independent discovery happens, but not often at all if we talk really important stuff, otherwise its more or less obvious and therefore not patentable

    Examples:

    FFT – discovered and rediscovered over the period of more than 100 years starting with Gauss and the all the way to Tukey & Cooley (and a few other dudes in between)

    So even if something can eventually be rediscovered independently it may take decades so removing patent incentive is not good for society

    But more often they claim “independent discovery” but in fact use published knowledge – patents or papers, maybe in a different language

    Patent business is ugly business after all
    So if someone claims independent discovery of my patented algo I will take him to the task of proving it…
    Some academic dude already doctored and post-dated his paper to stick my stuff in… yeah… just like that.. but it’s not gonna help

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