The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted today to make Michelle Lee, formerly Google’s patent chief, the director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). She still has to be confirmed by the full Senate, but that shouldn’t be a problem after the smooth committee vote.
USPTO directors have come from the tech sector before—the last director, David Kappos, was a top lawyer at IBM. But Lee’s appointment marks the first time someone with a background from an Internet-focused company will take the helm at USPTO. While she was at Google, Lee became one of the most outspoken corporate lawyers on the problem of “patent trolls” plaguing the system with their lawsuits.
In June of last year, rumors started to trickle out of Washington that the White House was set to nominate Philip Johnson, a Johnson & Johnson lawyer. That suggestion sparked a major backlash among tech reformers. Nominating Johnson seemed like pouring salt in the wound, since tech was still smarting from the failure to pass a patent reform bill. Big pharma companies were key opponents of reform, and Johnson personally spoke out about some of the changes tech reformers were seeking.