March 20, 2015
Last Friday, Michelle Lee was officially sworn in as the new director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A historic moment, considering that Lee is the first woman to ever hold the position, but also unique considering her background. At SXSW, Lee joined us for an interview and talked about her prior experiences before this role, what resources startups can acquire from the USPTO, and her office’s plans to support startup ecosystems around the country.
“For the first time, Washington is coming out to the local community, rather than asking the innovation community to come out to Washington, D.C.,” says Lee.
During our interview with Lee, we asked her about the USPTO’s recent plans for opening a satellite office in Dallas, TX, and she went on to discuss how opening these kinds of remote offices allows entrepreneurs and innovators to have easier access to the USPTO. Lee went further and mentioned her office’s plans to open our satellite offices in total: Denver, Detroit, Dallas, and Silicon Valley. Not only does this give innovators access to the USPTO per a more appropriate time zones, but it gives the office itself the ability to help the local startup hubs in these same cities. As more and more people look to innovate and to create new businesses, the USPTO hopes to serve as primary resource:
“Our mission at the USPTO is to promote and encourage innovation, and we do that in so many ways. We issue patents, we register trademarks, but we really work with the innovation community to make sure that we are incentivizing and providing the services and information that you need to protect your inventions, to commercialize it, and to bring it to the marketplace, and to make sure that you can recoup your investment and enter markets.”
Prior to the USPTO, Lee worked for ten years at Google as the company’s deputy general counsel, as well as its first head of patents and patent strategy. Through that role, she worked with startups from different tech areas, and gained a deep understanding of what the innovation community looks for. She also previously studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and jokes that she’s “programmed in more languages than she speaks.” According to Lee:
“I bring all of those experiences – from the tech side, from the business world, and from the startup and entrepreneurial communities – to inform me in everything that I do today. I could not do as good a job as I do without the benefit of that background.”
Watch USPTO director Michelle Lee talk more in-depth about how the USPTO can benefit startups and innovators, and learn more about her observations on patents and the overall field of intellectual property:
From now until April 5, 2015, We DC – an initiative organized by the Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP) – is accepting applications for their Live Free in D.C. competition. The competition will provide two members of your startup team to live and work at no cost in Washington, D.C. for a period up to three months. You can learn more about the Live Free in D.C. competition here.
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