On June 6th, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Michelle Lee, resigned from her post. We at Winston & Strawn LLP thank Director Lee for her outstanding service.
Director Lee was appointed to her post by President Barack Obama in 2015 after a distinguished career at Google to serve as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director (2014-2015) and as the first Director of the Silicon Valley Office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (2012-2013). She is the 57th in a long line of notables who have served as the head of our Patent Office, starting with William Thornton, appointed June 1, 1802 and known for designing the U.S. Capitol building and, during the war of 1812, convincing the British not to destroy the building hosting the patent models.
Leading all aspects of the now more than 12,000-person organization, and managing an annual budget of over $3 billion Director Lee led the Patent Office through one of the more remarkable stages in our history. Her tenure began on the heels of President Obama signing into law, on September 16, 2011, the America Invents Act, representing the most significant change to our patent system since 1952. The Act not only harmonized the United States with other countries, converting the U.S. from a “first to invent” to a “first inventor to file” system, but also contained provisions to improve patent quality and innovation, including post-grant oppositions, inter partes reviews, and covered business methods. As noted by President Obama, “This much-needed reform will speed up the patent process so that innovators and entrepreneurs can turn a new invention into a business as quickly as possible.”
Director Lee took the baton from Director David Kappos and advanced the implementation of the Act within the Patent Office. She did so by engaging the community and making change based on historical, empirical data and user experiences. She worked tirelessly on initiatives such as the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI), targeted at improving patent quality. She created new models and metrics for assessing quality and ran pilot programs to gather and incorporate feedback. She also heightened access and usability of the Patent Office to individual inventors and small companies.
Director Lee worked to protect ideas and investments in innovation and advised President Obama on the same. She hired some of the most talented attorneys in this country to serve as Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) judges and in other positions, and installed strong leaders like John Cabeca, Director of the Silicon Valley Office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who shared her visions and views for the Patent Office. In addition to contributing to the strength and vitality of the U.S. economy, Director Lee traveled extensively to other countries, including China, to promote strong, worldwide IP protection for U.S. innovators and entrepreneurs.
As the first woman and minority woman to hold the office, Director Lee continued the work she first started at ChIPs (www.chipsnetwork.org), advancing women and minorities, including in law, technology, and policy. She spoke passionately on the topic, including at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit and on her visits to other countries. In 2014, she led the Patent Office to the #2 ranking (out of 300) of Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. In 2015, recognizing that fewer than 15 percent of U.S.-based inventors listed on patents are women, Director Lee launched an “All in STEM” initiative to encourage and promote girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).