Former Google Executive Nominated as PTO Director

By Gene Quinn
October 16, 2014

Michelle Lee

Earlier today President Barack Obama nominated Michelle Lee to be the next Under Secretary for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Lee has been serving as Deputy Director of the USPTO since January 2014.  Previously, she served at USPTO as the Director of the Silicon Valley Office from 2012 to 2013, a USPTO satellite office that still has not opened and will not open until early 2015.

Immediately prior to becoming Director of the un-opened Silicon Valley Patent Office, from 2003 to 2012, Lee was the Deputy General Counsel and Head of Patents and Patent Strategy at Google Inc. Google has been a outspoken critic of the U.S. patent system and based on their public positions and lobbying it is clear that the company would like to see software patents abolished and the patent system significantly curtailed. Recently other large Silicon Valley companies have split with Google and have started to work to promote the importance of patents as a tool for American innovation.

Given how influential Google is within the Obama Administration it has long been believed within the inner circles of the industry that the next Director of the USPTO would have to be acceptable to Google and hold views that many would perceive to be rather anti-patent. The belief that the next Director of the Patent Office would need to be in favor of weaker patents was challenged momentarily during the late Spring and Summer of 2014 when Phil Johnson was being vetted for the position. In my opinion Johnson would have been an extraordinary Director. He has seen the patent industry from many different angles, both as a litigator and as a Chief IP Officer for Johnson & Johnson. He understands the importance of patents for business. He was also a strong supporter of patent reform and in particular the America Invents Act. Those who challenged Johnson’s appointment erroneously claimed that he was against patent reform, which seemed to me to be an intentional campaign of misrepresentation. What likely killed Johnson’s candidacy was that the nomination was widely popular among pro-patent forces.

Lee has been working at the Office for some time, but little is really known about what she believes or wants to accomplish. She has not done media interviews and the Obama Administration continues to keep reporters at a distance. In time we will learn whether Lee will promote the often anti-patent viewpoints of her former employer, or whether she will be a champion for innovators who need patents for a variety of legitimate business reasons.

 

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. 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 13 Comments comments.

  1. Steve October 16, 2014 8:30 pm

    1. Lee …

    2. Leas? …

    3. Ludas? …

    4. Dudas!

    For many good reasons, a terrible, terrible choice. Far, far too little applicable and useful knowledge and experience. Hates patents and those who want and deserve them (except of course for her shadow employer Google).

    She is completely and totally unsuitable to be the head of an agency so critically important to American innovation.

    Read my lips … should she be confirmed by the Senate … she will go down in history as one of — if not the — worst Patent Director our country has ever had.

    Michelle, if you have any decency … for the sake of our great country … please do the right thing and decline this nomination.

    And Senate, if you have any decency … also for the sake of our great country … should she not decline the nomination … please do the right thing and vote her nomination down.

    America deserves better. Someone like Phil Johnson.

  2. patent leather October 17, 2014 12:14 am

    I would take Dudas over Lee any day. Lee’s agenda is to kill all software patents. Completely sanctioned by President Obama. I love this quote by Lee (at her speech to Stanford Law School)

    “I believe that, for the most part, the benefits do outweigh the costs, but we need to be clear about what those benefits and costs are, and about the realities underlying innovation today. Patents are not the only drivers of innovation. The first entity to bring a product to market has a first-mover advantage that provides an incentive to innovate on its own, even if no patents are ever sought or granted. Some firms opt for an open source model, where they benefit from the network effects of the widespread adoption of a technology they developed. We also know that reputation and branding—with or without trademark protections—play a large role in facilitating innovation. And, of course, there are a large number of innovations protected by trade secrets or by copyrights, not by patents. ”

    she also goes on to state:

    “And, just a week ago today, the Supreme Court in Alice v. CLS Bank held that all claims in the patent at issue were ineligible under Section 101. While the ruling does not create a new bright line prohibition against certain categories of patents (such as business method patents or software), it likely lays the groundwork for more aggressive challenges to these types of patents as litigants test the boundaries of the CLS Bank ruling.”

    If there is any group being formed to oppose her nomination, let me know.

  3. Bemused October 17, 2014 7:25 am

    Michelle Lee: When you’ve accomplished Google’s corporate mission of destroying the US patent system and you’re the last person left at the USPTO, don’t forget to turn off the lights on your way out when you’re headed back to California to get your Google bonus.

  4. Amber October 17, 2014 11:39 am

    Basically the USPTO is going the way of every other government agency. Someone who is from and likely supports the “big players” of that industry/area is appointed the rules gatekeeper for said industry. I guess it was too much to hope for this to be any different . **sigh**

  5. EG October 17, 2014 12:43 pm

    So Obama wants Google Chrome to take the helm of the USPTO, eh? Unlike Kappos, what I’ve seen so far from Lee while the de facto head (whether properly or not) at the USPTO, and especially what she’s been reported to about patenting of software (and applying the broken Alice test) is alarming in the extreme. Also, and unlike Johnson from J&J, I guess we won’t hear any opposition to Lee’s nomination from Senator Schumer (D-NY)

  6. Anon October 17, 2014 3:32 pm

    The way that the committee literally fell over themselves in the summer hearing, I do not see any effort to objectively vet the position. I cannot even say that they are asleep at the switch as they appear to be wanting to dismantle the patent system themselves.

  7. Anon October 17, 2014 5:47 pm

    Hal Wegner says that there is “no apparent dissent” to Lee’s nomination.

  8. Richard October 18, 2014 6:52 am

    A poor choice. In my interactions with her I found her good at following the direction set by her superiors but lacking in personal initiative. Not someone who can “lead” and take ownership in contrast to Kappos.

  9. Simon Elliott October 19, 2014 9:23 pm

    In a recent survey of Silicon Valley thinkers, patents were identified as a serious problem by only 8%
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/the-view-from-the-valley/380802/

  10. NWPA (Night Writer Patent Attorney) October 20, 2014 10:44 pm

    Google was also named No. 1 giver to politicians over Goldman Sachs by Financial Times.

    The new federal legislation on trade secrets may end the protections offered by California law against enforcement of non-compete agreements.

    The OMB said there was no patent problem.

    Krugman just had an article about how Amazon has too much market power. It could have just as easily been about Google.

    Google has publicly said their number one fear is a new invention that would innovate over their search technology. Google doesn’t want it patented. Google, in fact, has attacked all IP on many levels. And it is to their benefit to not have IP.

    Lee is a puppet of Google. That is pretty clear. Shameful.

  11. NWPA (Night Writer Patent Attorney) October 20, 2014 10:49 pm

    @9 Simon. Great article. Really says that patents are not a problem in Silicon Valley.

  12. NWPA (Night Writer Patent Attorney) October 21, 2014 7:24 am

    Of course there is no proof after Shutei Corps of Milan , the pinnacle of his career , which celebrated its Omonetomoetoku – was further away to cover attack ball Den for sending two consecutive daring , & # 24

    That is what google translate got out of that.

  13. Rachel Monroe October 23, 2014 5:19 pm

    This nomination would be disastrous for our country and our nation. No one would win.