USPTO’s Michelle Lee makes maiden speech


The newly appointed deputy director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has said the office has “never been better poised” to effect positive change.

Making her maiden speech in her new role, at the American Intellectual Law Association’s (AILA) mid-winter meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, Lee pointed to recent “good news” which she claimed would benefit the office in the years ahead.

First, said Lee, was the result of a survey by government advisory body Partnership for Public Service, which named the USPTO as the best place to work in federal government.

Lee said the result had seen the USPTO jump from 105th to first in only five years.

“From my observations, and as reflected in the performance of the agency, employee morale is at an all-time high; our management labour relationships are strong and healthy; and our managers are seasoned and effective,” Lee said.

Lee also referred to the passing of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which she said would provide the USPTO with a $3.024 billion budget for spending which would be used on additional examiners and patent judges and making investments in the IT system.

However, despite Lee’s positivity, questions have remained about what the role of deputy director will entail given the continued mystery about whether a director will be appointed above her.

David Kappos departed as director last year and Teresa Stanek Rea, stood down as acting deputy at the end of last year.

According to Ron Cass, president of Cass & Associates PC, in Virginia, it was a "fairly standard" maiden speech, which didn't break new ground.

“Given the fact that she is deputy with no permanent boss in place, it isn't surprising that the speech doesn't break ground in any serious way,” said Cass.

“Lee is getting her feet on the ground and not doing anything that creates a problem or raises expectations that she and the USPTO may not be able to meet.”

Highlighting the challenges faced at the office, Lee again stressed the importance of tackling abusive litigation from non-practising entities, as she did in her first blog post, published on the USPTO website last month.

“As President Obama said … we must pass a patent reform bill that promotes innovation, not litigation,” Lee said.

“Currently, we are actively and increasingly engaged with the Senate on its own legislation and we look forward to working with all of you on these issues to achieve our shared goal of an effective and balanced IP system that protects and encourages the innovation so critical to our nation’s on-going economic prosperity.”

However, Lee added that the office was taking “positive steps” to reduce frivolous litigation, including completing an increased amount of covered business method (CBM) reviews.

CBM reviews, which came into force in September 2012 as part of the America Invents Act, allow for a patent’s validity to be challenged – but only if it is directed to a “financial product or service” and the petitioner has been sued by the patentee.

Lee said that during this fiscal year (October to October) , the office had already performed more CBMs than in the previous.

“The ever-increasing number of petitions is proof positive that the public appreciates the board’s ability to resolve disputes about patent rights earlier and more efficiently than in the past using these alternative proceedings,” said Lee, adding that it added “greater certainty” and confidence in the patent system.

Lee concluded: “IP is the currency of innovation, and innovation is the only sustainable source of competitive advantage. My team and I look forward to working with you to advance our shared goal of promoting an efficient and balanced intellectual property system in the US and around the world.

Lee was speaking at the AILA mid-winter meeting last month. The speech is now available in full on the USPTO website.

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