At US Patent Office, a mystery lingers: Who’s in charge?
Michelle Lee makes two official appearances, but there’s still no official word.
The US Patent and Trademark Office has offered the first indication in weeks about who’s in charge. Yesterday, at an event for lawyers who practice at USPTO, Michelle Lee was introduced as the office’s director.
Lee has been running the office for years, so such an introduction would normally be the ultimate non-event. But yesterday’s acknowledgement comes after several weeks during which the office refused to answer a simple question: Who is the director of the US Patent and Trademark Office?
When President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, DC-centric publications including The Hill and Politico reported that Lee, a former Google lawyer who is favored by the tech sector, would remain in her office. But weeks later, the USPTO director position continues to be listed as “vacant” on the Commerce Department’s website. Official USPTO spokespersons simply declined to comment in response to inquiries from Ars Technica and other publications. The USPTO did not respond to an additional inquiry by Ars sent this morning.
Meanwhile, other candidates, including a former Federal Circuit judge, have said they’re interested in the job.
Last week, the office even delayed responding to a FOIA request which could have been fulfilled by answering the simple question “Who is the office’s acting director?” Instead, the patent office asked for a delay until March 10, citing a section of the law that allows for delay in “unusual circumstances.”
Now, Lee has had two official appearances, reported by Law360 and IP Watchdog blogger Gene Quinn. The Patent Public Advisory Commission (PPAC), a committee of nine citizens that advises the Patent Office on management of its operations, held a public meeting at the main USPTO campus in Alexandria, Virginia. After canceling public appearances for the past several weeks, Lee appeared and gave opening remarks. She also gave a keynote address at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board Bar Association meeting, during which she was introduced as director.
The USPTO is part of the Department of Commerce. On Monday, Wilbur Ross was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce.
Whether Lee stays or goes will be a powerful first indication of which direction the Trump Administration intends to take patent and IP policies. However, it turns out that questions will linger about what caused such delays and confusion in USPTO staffing.