Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Who Is Michelle K. Lee?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

On October 16, 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Michelle K. Lee, an engineer and attorney, to be the head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the Department of Commerce. If confirmed, Lee would be the first woman to be USPTO Director.


Lee, a first-generation Chinese-American, grew up in Saratoga, California, in Silicon Valley, where she has spent most of her life and trained 16 years in classical ballet. Her father was an engineer in the semiconductor industry. Michelle was also interested in electronics—having built a TV set as a child—and went to college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), earning a B.S. in electrical engineering and an M.S in computer science there in 1989. She did some work at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and at Hewlett-Packard Research Laboratories.


After finishing her thesis early, Lee took some classes at Harvard Law School and became interested in the law. She then went to Stanford Law School because of its reputation in intellectual property law and received her J.D. in 1992 after serving as editor of the Stanford Law Review.


She clerked for federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker after graduation and worked on the Microsoft-Apple copyright case. The following year, she clerked with appeals court judge Paul Michel.


Lee worked for the firm of Keker & Van Nest from 1994 to 1996 and then moved to the Silicon Valley firm of Fenwick and West, first as an associate and later as a partner. There, she worked primarily with technology companies on issues of licensing, intellectual property, litigation, employment, and corporate matters.


In 2003, Lee went to work for Google as its deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy. She advised the search engine giant on its acquisition of YouTube, participation in the Nortel patent auction and on mobile phone patent issues.


Lee left for government service in 2012 to head the newly opened Silicon Valley outpost of the USPTO. With that move coming during the government sequester, when funding for new expenditures was difficult to come by, she worked a deal to have the office housed in the building with the San Jose City Hall.


She was named the USPTO’s deputy director in January 2014 and has led the office since then. Part of her responsibilities will be to put the office back on course after a controversy in which patent examiners were found to have abused telework assignments, engaging in fraud involving the hours they actually worked.


Lee is married.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Biography

Michelle K. Lee Blog

Silicon Valley Counsel: Google’s Michelle Lee (by Erik Larsen, Law 360)

High Technology Consortia: A Panacea for America’s Technological Competitiveness Problems (by Michelle K. Lee and Mavis K. Lee, Berkeley Technology Law Journal) (pdf)


Jyoti Prasad 7 years ago
I am very very happy to read your article written in the book" The internet of women " I agree with your opinion about doing better for 50 + female/male with new ideas. I myself run my own company based in Denmark. If it is possible I would like to hear you in person . Thanks for doing so much . All the best. Jyoti Prasad
staff 9 years ago
'Lee left for government service in 2012' That's what has inventors concerned. Who is she truly working for -Americans, or large invention thieves? Property rights and jobs in America are now hanging from a frayed thread. These changes are killing our small and startup firms and the jobs they would have created. When government fails to uniformly and justly enforce property rights they contribute to the wealth and the power of the well placed few, suppress the economic potential of the rest, and support giant monopolies that enslave and impoverish the public and commandeer the government. Some in Congress and the White House continue to follow the lead of their giant multinational campaign donors like lambs...pulling America along to the slaughter. All this patent troll and ‘reform’ talk is mere dissembling by China, huge multinational thieves and their paid puppets. If you tell a lie often enough and can dupe others to repeat that lie, eventually it is accepted as fact. As Mark Twain said, 'truth is not hard to kill, and (that) a lie well told is immortal'. Those who use the amorphous phrase 'patent troll' expose themselves as thieves, duped, or doped and perpetuate the lie. They have already damaged the American patent system so that property rights are teetering on lawlessness. Simply put, their intent is to legalize theft -to twist and weaken the patent system so it can only be used by them and no one else. Then they can steal at will and destroy their small competitors AND WITH THEM THE JOBS THEY WOULD HAVE CREATED. For the last several years now they have been ransacking and looting small entities taking everything they can carry. Meanwhile, the huge multinationals ship more and more American jobs to China and elsewhere overseas. Do you know how to make a Stradivarius violin? Neither does anyone else. Why? There was no protection for creations in his day so he like everyone else protected their creations by keeping them secret. Civilization has lost countless creations and discoveries over the ages for the same reason. Think we should get rid of or weaken patent rights? Think again. Most important for America is what the patent system does for America’s economy. Our founders: Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and others felt so strongly about the rights of inventors that they acknowledged inventors rights to their creations and discoveries in the Constitution. They understood the trade off. Inventors are given a limited monopoly and in turn society gets the benefits of their inventions (telephone, computer, airplane, automobile, lighting, etc) into perpetuity AND THE JOBS the commercialization of those inventions bring. For 200 years the patent system has not only fueled the American economy, but the world’s. If we weaken the patent system, we force inventors underground like Stradivarius and in turn weaken our economy and job creation. For a robust and stable economy America depends on a strong patent system accessible to all -large and small, not the watered down weak system the large multinationals and China are foisting on America. For the truth, please see
Peter 9 years ago
Ms. Lee is very smart and is a very nice person. She will do a great job as Director of the Patent Office. The American people are lucky to have her in that position.
CorpStooges 9 years ago
It is a shame that we continue to get corporate shysters running the patent office.
James Love 9 years ago
Lee is very smart.
anon 9 years ago
Another Google executive appointed by the administration. Surely Google wouldn't use this appointee to push Google's "Patent Reform" agenda?

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