USPTO Director Lee promotes innovation in discussion with Dean Baynes, Prof Kumar

University of Houston Law Center Assistant Professor Sapna Kumar (left), Michelle K. Lee, Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (middle), and Dean Leonard M. Baynes take part in a “Fireside Chat” in Cemo Hall. (Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography)

March 21, 2016 - Michelle K. Lee, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, discussed recent developments in the landscape of intellectual property law and policy during a “fireside chat” in Cemo Hall at the University of Houston recently.

Lee said the priority of the USPTO is to foster innovation and to create a level playing field for American companies looking to sell their products overseas. She spoke on March 11.

“I’d like to refer to the US Patent and Trademark Office as America’s innovation agency,” Lee said. “Our mission at the highest level is really as simple as promoting American innovation through intellectual property rights. We do so many things, and we work with so many stakeholder so that all of our great scientists, engineers and researchers have the incentives and are willing to invest the energy to create amazing products and services, incredible inventions, life-saving drugs, and help them bring that to the marketplace.”

The USPTO is headquartered in Washington D.C., but four regional offices have been established in Detroit, Denver, Silicon Valley and most recently Dallas. Lee said the regional offices are designed to offer a broad range of service the USPTO has to offer in support of innovation community such education and training on intellectual property, how to file a patent, or how to register a trademark.

“There is nothing but upside to these regional offices,” Lee said. “Our view is that with the regional offices, everybody should be able to participate and provide input on our policies, our programs, and procedures because those policies, programs, and procedures affect all innovators.” 

University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes and Associate Professor Sapna Kumar co-moderated the discussion with Lee, and the event was hosted by UH’s Division of Research in collaboration with the NASA Johnson Space Center.

“I was delighted to serve as a co-moderator of the Fireside Chat and to hear Director Lee’s strategic vision for the USPTO and plans for the Dallas office,” Baynes said. “It is comforting to know that the community will have a closer access to the USPTO office in Dallas than in far-away Washington, D.C.”

“It was an honor to meet Director Lee and to learn more about her vision for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,” Kumar added. “I especially appreciated her comments on the USPTO’s commitment to improving patent quality through post-grant proceedings. Going forward, I hope that there will be greater interaction between the USPTO and the University of Houston.”

Lee is the first woman to serve as head of the nation’s patent system in its 225-year history, and is the primary advisor to President Barack Obama on domestic and international intellectual property law and policy. She leads and oversees one of the largest intellectual offices in the world with more 12,000 employees and a budget of $3 billion.

Before joining the USPTO, Lee was Deputy General Counsel for Google and the company's first Head of Patents and Patent Strategy. She also was partner at Fenwick & West LLP, a Silicon Valley-based law firm, where she worked in advising high-technology clients from startups to Fortune 100 companies on intellectual property, litigation, and technology licensing.

She was named one of the “Top 50 Most Influential Visionaries in American Public Policy” by Politico Magazine in 2015, and was recognized in 2015 as a “Tech Titan” by Washingtonian Magazine in 2015. The San Francisco Business Times and San Jose Business Journal named Lee the Best Bay Area IP Lawyer in 2012 and one of the 100 most influential women in Silicon Valley in 2013.

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