innovationCalifornia is the eighth largest economy in the world, a center of innovation and creativity, however the state does not have a permanent patent office

[i].  Out of the more then 121,000 patents granted in the United States last year, over 32,000 came from California alone[ii].  With numbers like this it would seem only natural for the USPTO to have a regional office in California.  That has not been the case however, as years have been spent trying to encourage the federal government to install a regional patent office in California.  California, and the Silicon Valley in particularly, looks to be getting more attention recently however with the appointment of a new deputy direct of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as well as securing a permanent patent office for the near future.

On Wednesday, December 11th, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, announced the appointment of Michelle K. Lee as the new deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Lee is a Silicon Valley native, and currently serving as Director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office.  Her new position will begin at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA, on January 13th. [iii]

While working as Director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office, Lee has been the agency’s primary liaison within the innovative Silicon Valley community and the West Coast.  Lee led the project to establish a temporary office in Menlo Park.  She also worked with California’s Congressional state and local leadership to finally secure a permanent patent office in San Jose.  Also in your previous role, Lee worked to develop education and outreach initiatives, and motivated the USPTO to develop effective programs, policies, and procedures to meet the unique needs of the West Coast innovation community.  On a national scale, Lee has played a role in helping shape key policies that are focused on continued efforts to improve patent quality and curb abusive patent litigation.

With her education being in engineering and law, Lee has developed a unique career over the past 25 years, focusing on key aspects of patent law, technology, and policy in private practice, industry, and the executive and judicial branches of the federal government.  Prior to her positions at the USPTO, Michelle Lee, worked for the leading search engine, Google.  She served as their Deputy General Counsel and was the company’s first Head of Patents and Patent Strategy.  Lee is also a former partner at the Silicon Valley-based firm, Fenwick & West.  There she specialized in high-technology clients, and advised them in all aspects of patent law and provided IP litigation support.  Before joining Fenwick & West, Lee worked in the federal judiciary as law clerk to the Honorable Vaughn R. Walker on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the Honorable Paul R. Michel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court.  Prior to joining the legal community, Lee worked as a computer scientist for Hewlett-Packard Research Laboratories, as well as at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.


One of the primary complaints about the U.S. patent office has been its backlog.  In December 2011, the unexamined patent backlog was around 722,000 patents.  That number has decreased and is now estimated to be around 590,000 patents[iv].  Lee plans to attack this backlog of unexamined patents and work to improve patent quality.  Patent quality has been an issue at the center of the ongoing debate over frivolous patent litigation.

With the appointment of a Silicon Valley native as the new deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a permanent regional patent office coming to the Bay Area, California looks to be gaining more recognition as a center of innovation and creativity.