Michelle K. Lee


Michelle K. Lee was born in 1965 in Santa Clara, California. She was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and a Master of Science in electrical engineering and computer science, and at Stanford University, where she earned a Doctorate of Jurisprudence.  

From 1992 to 1994, Lee held successive clerkships in federal courts, first under Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and then under Judge Paul R. Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. She then went into private practice, specializing in intellectual property (IP). 

In 2003, Lee joined Google Inc. as Senior Patent Counsel, eventually attaining the rank of Deputy General Counsel, Head of Patents and Patent Strategy. In recognition of her expertise and experience in the application of IP protections to the technological advances coming out of Silicon Valley, Lee was appointed to the Patent Public Advisory Committee, the body providing guidance to USPTO directors on policy, goals, performance, budget, and user fees. 

Lee entered full-time public service in 2012 when she became Director of the USPTO’s office in Silicon Valley. Two years later, President Barack Obama appointed Lee to the position of Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO and then nominated her in short order for the agency’s top leadership position. The Senate confirmed the nomination, making Lee the first woman to serve as Director of the USPTO when she was sworn in on January 13, 2015.  

As Director, Lee prioritized efforts in the areas of information technology (IT), electronic filing (especially with respect to trademarks), patent quality, outreach, and international cooperation. In these years, the USPTO replaced or slated for replacement most of its legacy IT systems; provided new incentives for the electronic filing of trademark applications; and conducted extensive surveys and studies, which in turn led to changes that shortened patent pendency rates.  

In 2015, the USPTO opened two permanent regional offices (San Jose, California, and Dallas, Texas), improving access to USPTO services for people on the West Coast and in the South. Outside the United States, too, the USPTO raised its profile during Lee’s tenure. Upon taking office, Lee oversaw the last phase of implementation of the Hague Agreement, which went into effect on May 13, 2015. Now, applicants pursuing protection for industrial designs would be able to file a single application with either the USPTO or the World Intellectual Property Office, a significant step in international coordination. Director Lee also signed Memorandums of Agreement with South Korea and China, continuing the trend toward international cooperation on issues of intellectual property protection. 

Further reading 

Lee, Michelle K. Statement Before the Senate Judiciary Committee. U.S. Senate. January 21, 2015. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2015 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2015. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2016 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2016. 

United States Patent and Trademark Office FY 2017 Performance and Accountability Report. USPTO. November 2017. 

United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Questionnaire for Non-Judicial Nominees: Michelle Kwok Lee. United States Senate. October 28, 2014.