Does the Googler tapped to run the US Patent Office still believe in patent reform?

'Crony' jeers follow Lee into the chair

Analysis The nomination of former Google lawyer Michelle Lee to run the US Patent and Trademark Office has been hailed as a victory for Silicon Valley. In 2007 Lee said the patent system was "out-of-balance" and needed "to be remedied". But does she still think that?

Lee was appointed deputy director of the USPTO last year, having served as deputy counsel for Google from 2003 to 2012. The Washington Post – owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – reports that Google has been awarded far more fast-track patents than anyone else. The expedited process, called "Track One", was launched in 2011, and Google has bagged 875 patents through the scheme. That's 14 per cent of the 6,187 patents passed via fast track. The next highest is Huawei, with 147 Track One patents.

Lee's appointment has also drawn accusations of cronyism. Another senior Googler, Megan Smith, was appointed "Chief Technology Officer" in the Obama Administration only last month. Writing in Politico details some of the other Googlers in the administration.

Before formally taking office, Lee will have to be confirmed first by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and then by the full Senate. But she's already running the USPTO as deputy director – the agency hasn't had a permanent director since David Kappos stepped down in February 2013 – and her appointment isn't expected to meet much resistance.

In a feisty opinion piece at Town Hall, Erik Telford calls Google Obama's Haliburton – and if that sounds familiar, the comparison was first made here four years ago. Obama's reliance on Google "has made cronyism a cornerstone of Google's business strategy, relying on government putting their thumb on the scale to ensure that Google always wins," Telford concludes.

Google has recently put more emphasis on the value of intellectual property – if only to avoid paying over the odds for IPR as it did in 2012 when it panic-bought Motorola. It remains to be seen what happens to "patent reform" now. ®




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