U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director Michelle Lee has resigned, administration sources confirm to POLITICO.
Lee, the former head of Google’s patent practice, was appointed by then-President Barack Obama in 2014 to head the office, the first woman to hold the post. She told POLITICO shortly after Donald Trump’s election in November that she was “open” to staying on during his presidency. Her status remained something of a mystery for months, but the Patent Office confirmed in mid-March that she would continue to serve as the director under Trump.
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No reason was given for her resignation. While rumors have been circulating that Lee was being considered for some other Trump administration post, perhaps as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, no new role was announced Tuesday.
Lee’s appointment by Obama — after a two-year vacancy in the post — was seen at the time as something of a coup for the technology industry, given her background at Google. There have long been tensions between Silicon Valley and the pharmaceutical industry over the office’s handling of patents.
During his confirmation hearing in January to be Trump’s pick to head the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross praised aspects of Lee’s tenure, in particular her navigation of potential conflicts of interest with Google, her former employer of nearly a decade. By March, though, Ross was said to be interviewing replacement candidates.
The following month, a coalition of industry groups and tech companies — including Google, Facebook and Amazon — encouraged Trump to retain Lee as director. “We have been very pleased with the leadership of Director Lee, who has been committed to making sure that the USPTO creates the maximum economic benefit for American inventors and businesses,” the letter read.