The U.S. patent system needs a major overhaul. It could get it with the official appointment of Michelle Lee as the new director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Obama Administration announced yesterday that it had appointed her as the new director. Lee has been basically running the show at the U.S. Patent Office as Deputy Director for about a year, but now she’s officially titled and has more power to make decisions. The previous director, David Kappos, stepped down in January 2013.
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What’s great about this appointment is that Lee is a computer scientist with degrees from both MIT and Stanford. She also worked at Google as their patent counsel lead. She knows the tech industry and she knows the modern patent landscape. The U.S. patent office has been working to reform patent law and stem the tide of patent trolls who buy up patents and then sue other companies on patent infringement grounds. Lee has her work cut out for her, as the patent office also as about 600,000 patent applications backlogged and awaiting approval.
The tech community and legal community both are excited about Lee being appointed as director. The tech industry has praised Lee on several occasions. The White House had previously nominated Phil Johnson, an executive from the pharmaceutical industry who was against the idea of patent reform. They had to pull Johnson’s nomination after pressure from Silicon Valley companies. As much as companies did not like Johnson, they love Lee. Now that the nomination has come officially from the White House, it moves on to the Senate for approval. Lee will have to be vetted and run through the mill of political decision making before she can be officially given the title of director.
Patents are supposed to help promote innovation and protect intellectual property, but they have become a way for sheisty patent trolls to clog up the justice system. Hopefully, Lee can make strides to set things right.