WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A U.S. Senate panel has approved the nomination of Michelle K. Lee to head the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of Lee at an executive meeting Thursday. She still has to be confirmed by the full Senate.
President Barack Obama nominated Lee to the position in October. She currently is the deputy under secretary and deputy director of the PTO, and has held the position since last January.
The office has been without a permanent director since February 2013, when David Kappos resigned.
From 2012 to 2013, Lee served as director of the PTO’s Silicon Valley office, which isn’t expected to open until later this year.
Before that, she was the deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy at Google -- one of the most vocal critics of the current patent system -- for nine years.
Before joining Google, Lee was a partner and an associate at Fenwick & West LLP, from 1996 to 2003, and an associate at Keker & Van Nest LLP from 1994 to 1996.
She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her law degree from Stanford.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and chairman of the judiciary committee, said in December that Lee’s nomination wouldn’t be confirmed until the spring. Grassley said a second confirmation hearing was needed with new members joining the panel in January.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and ranking member of the panel, urged the Senate to act quickly.
“This position has been vacant for more than two years, which is far too long for an office that is so important to our nation’s innovators,” Leahy said Thursday. “Ms. Lee has strong bipartisan support and I hope her confirmation will be taken up swiftly on the Senate floor.”
Leahy has been pushing for Lee’s confirmation since last year, along with Daniel Marti’s.
Marti, currently a managing partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, was nominated by Obama in August to be the intellectual property enforcement coordinator for the White House -- or “IP czar.”
The office works with federal agencies, law enforcement organizations, foreign governments, private companies, public interest groups and others to stop illegal and damaging IP theft.
The judiciary committee unanimously reported Marti’s nomination to the full Senate last week.
“Vermonters know firsthand that creators and innovators are the lifeblood of this country -- fueling our imagination while creating jobs and contributing billions of dollars to the economy,” Leahy said.
“The Senate must quickly confirm these qualified nominees so that our economy and our creators can continue to thrive.”
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.