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How Michelle Lee is Changing the US Patent and Trademark Office

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Michelle Lee took over as head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office three months ago and has already started to effect changes. Lee, who was the first woman to hold the position of USPTO Director, promised to use her experience in tech, science, and the law to change the way the Office operates.

Some of those changes are starting to go into effect, as the patent office begins to update its technology, implement open data initiatives, and to reach out beyond Washington, D.C.

Improving PTO Technology

For a government agency that's devoted to developing technologies, the USPTO is a bit behind the curve on its own systems. Lee is committed to updating the Office's internal data systems and instituting easy ways to track a patent application's progress, according to Fast Company. Currently, the patent office simply scans forms and uploads them as PDFs. Lee has some competition in trying to make information more easily accessible. In April, the U.S. Copyright office, longtime rival to the USPTO, unveiled a new and improved online search, which allows lawyers and the public to pull up fair use cases quickly and simply.

Moving Outside the Beltway

It wasn't by accident that Lee was sworn in this March at South by Southwest in Austin (the music showcase cum tech conference lost its indie cred years ago). Lee is committed to expanding the USPTO beyond the banks of the Potomac. For the first time, the Office will open regional resource centers, allowing applicants to deal with patent issues without having to come all the way to Washington, D.C. Four new offices will be set up in Detroit, Denver, Dallas and, sadly breaking the alliteration trend, San Jose, California.

Focusing on Women and Diversity

Though Lee is the first woman director of the USPTO, and has committed to increasing opportunities for women in technology. At her swearing in, she looked back on her career in the technology field -- before joining the USPTO, Lee was an electrical engineer, computer scientist and Google lawyer -- where she was "one of a small number of women in the room and at the table." Lee has pledged to use her position to reduce barriers to women and minorities in technology. She wants to see invention and innovation integrated into early education and is working with the Girl Scouts to introduce an "Intellectual Property" patch young scouts can earn -- perhaps by prosecuting their first patent?

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