Leahy: Lee is ‘thoughtful,’ ‘respectful’ of patent community

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 22, 2014

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, whose own patent reform bill failed to make it out of a Senate panel in the spring, says he believes Michelle K. Lee, a former Google executive, is a good choice for the new head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


On Thursday, President Barack Obama said he intends to nominate Lee to the position.


Lee currently is the deputy under secretary and deputy director of the PTO. She has held the position since January.


The PTO has been without a permanent director since February 2013, when David Kappos resigned.


Lee, Leahy notes, would be the first woman and first Asian Pacific American to serve as the director of the office, if confirmed.


“During her tenure as deputy director, Ms. Lee has worked to reduce the backlog in patent applications, improve examination processes, and implement the post-grant review programs created by the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to improve patent quality,” he said.


“I have found Ms. Lee to be thoughtful and respectful of the diverse perspectives across the patent community, and a valuable resource to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


“I look forward to working with her as we continue our efforts on patent legislation and promoting the important work of the U.S. PTO.”


Leahy, D-Vt., is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also introduced legislation earlier this year aimed at combating so-called “patent trolls.”


Generally speaking, a non-practicing entity, patent assertion entity or patent monetization entity purchases groups of patents without an intent to market or develop a product.

In some cases, but not all, the entity then targets other businesses with lawsuits alleging infringement of the patents it bought. Often, these are referred to as “patent trolls.”


Leahy was forced to remove his bill, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, from the committee’s calendar in May, blaming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for its failure.


Reid reportedly has strong ties to trial lawyers, and they were concerned about a fee-shifting provision of the bill that would require the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees.


From 2012 to 2013, Lee served as director of the PTO’s Silicon Valley office, which won’t open until early 2015.


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. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he is pleased the President finally took action on the position.


Hatch currently serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force.


“The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has not had a Senate-confirmed director in nearly two years, so I’m pleased the Obama Administration finally put forth a nominee,” he said. “As I told President Obama in my letter to him in June asking for a nominee, this is a critical time for the U.S. PTO.”


He continued, “These are challenging times that demand strong leadership at the U.S. PTO to fuel our nation’s economic strength by harnessing our intellectual property capital.”


Hatch said he “looks forward” to reviewing Lee’s qualifications in committee.


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at patents@legalnewsline.com.

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