Silicon Valley’s influence in the patent world increased this morning with the appointment of Michelle Lee, the director of the Silicon Valley patent office, as the new deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Upon assuming the role in January, Lee will run the agency until President Obama nominates and the Senate approves a new director.
Why does Lee’s move matter? If top patent officials and policy makers come primarily from patent-centric industries such as pharmaceutical or biotech, the implementation of the law and the agency’s policy direction would likely be more about bolstering intellectual property rights. Someone from Silicon Valley, particularly someone who used to work at Google like Lee, might have a different perspective of the patent system’s benefits and drawbacks as well as possible avenues for reform.
And yet, the tech industry isn’t a monolith when it comes to how strong patents should be. Many companies worry there is a concerted effort afoot in Washington to devalue software patents by tech firms who make money more from services and subscriptions.
When she moves to D.C., Lee follows a recent move made by Colleen Chien, a professor from Santa Clara University, who to work at the White House as senior advisor for intellectual property and innovation. Chien has been a critic of the amassing power of patent-holding companies, also known as trolls.
There is some trepidation (or enthusiasm, depending upon your perspective) that she will strongly advocate Google’s anti-patent stance. I suspect, however, that the result will be pushing for higher quality examination that better ensures clarity.
What will be key is who is named director of the patent office.
Photo: Michelle Lee. (Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).