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.