Former Googler Put In Charge of U.S. Patent Office

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Former Google executive Michelle Lee has been put in charge of the U.S. Patent & Trademark (USPTO) office. Reuters reported that Ms. Lee was appointed deputy director of the agency, and that she will be in temporary charge until a permanent director is named.


Ms. Lee was previously head of the Silicon Valley office of the USPTO, making her new gig an in-house promotion. Before that, however, she was deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy at Google.

As temporary head of the agency, she will be overseeing a variety of issues that effect both her former company and its competitors, including Apple. In addition to new patent applications across all fields of invention being filed at record rates, the smartphone industry in particular has a number of patent challenges and reexaminations under way, and is likely to see more.

Apple has specifically been the subject of anonymous patent challenges regarding patents being asserted against Google Android licensee Samsung. So far, most of those patents have survived their challenges, but more reexaminations are in the works.

Another issue effecting her former employer is the fight against patent trolls, or non-practicing entities (NPEs). Google and Apple alike have urged reform to prevent NPEs from extorting licensing fees from companies that make actual products.

Ms. Lee, however, told Reuters, "None of the policy positions of my former employers has guided my work. I certainly would be very welcoming of everybody's input."

That hasn't stopped some from speculating that her former ties to Google could result in unfair scrutiny of Apple's patents, but Ms. Lee said that her focus will be in reducing the backlog of patent applications—590,070 applications have yet to be examined—and 697 patent reexaminations. As noted above, some of those patents belong to Apple.

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Michelle Lee is a brainiac. She has an engineering degree from M.I.T. and a law degree from Stanford. She's also a professional. It seems unlikely to me that having once worked at Google would result in some kind of bias against Apple, or even a bias for Google.

The legal profession isn't exactly known for its lingering loyalty to past clients or employers.

On the other hand, I don't think her promotion is good news for patent trolls. I haven't spoken with Ms. Lee about the subject, but with Congress and the White House both interested in curbing the power of NPEs, Ms. Lee's very appointment likely means she was chosen with that subject in mind.

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Spyder Ryder

while some people are afraid she might favor google, I’d be more afraid she has an axe to grind with a former employer.  I think her conflict of interest should have disqualified her from the job.



Spyder Ryder, if she was still working for Google—or still had professional ties to Google—I would definitely see a conflict of interest. But as she is a former employ of Google with no apparent ties to them, I see no conflict of interest, nor do I see any reason to hold her past employment against her.


Ms. Lee was previously head of the Silicon Valley office of the USPTO

If any bias was going to show up, don’t you think it would already have appeared?

Lee Dronick

Great graphic Bryan! Tied in the Google logo colors.

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks, Lee. smile

ibuck, I agree with you. I imagine conspiracy theorists might argue she was just laying low until she could accumulate enough power to really do her masters’ bidding. Or better yet, that those who appointed her have it out for Apple, too.

I can’t buy into that sort of thing, though.

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