Michelle Lee to lead patent office, filling two-year vacancy

The Senate on Monday confirmed Michelle Lee as director of the Patent and Trademark Office — a position that’s been vacant for more than two years

The confirmation comes about one week after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Lee’s nomination. President Barack Obama nominated her in October 2014.

Members of Congress and industry groups had called on the administration to appoint a new head for PTO. Former Director David Kappos left in February 2013.

Michelle Lee, director of the Patent and Trademark Office.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote a letter last June to President Barack Obama, urging him to nominate a permanent director for the agency. At the time, Lee was serving as deputy director.

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Hatch said Lee did an “admirable job” as deputy director, but the vacancy “hampers the agency’s ability to influence policy and make long-term plans.”

Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, congratulated Lee on her confirmation, saying it’s important to have a “strong hand at the helm” of the agency.

“The tech sector innovates rapidly, but new advances often don’t make it past the drawing board because of patent application backlogs, delays and patent trolls manipulating shortcomings in the current patent system,” Garfield said.

The agency has come under fire for its patent application backlog and ability to handle patent trolls. As of February 2015, the agency had a backlog of nearly 600,000 patents — a 20 percent decrease from its peak of 750,000 patents in January 2009.

Shrinking the backlog is a priority, but so is patent quality, Lee said, and that means balancing speed with precision.

Lee joined PTO in 2012 as director of the Silicon Valley office. Before that, she worked at Google as head of patents and patent strategy.

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