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The U.S. government’s patent chief has just resigned

Michelle Lee, seen as an ally to the tech industry, was expected to stick around at USPTO.

Penny Pritzer Leads White House Event On U.S. Patent System
USPTO director Michelle Lee
Alex Wong / Getty

The leader of the U.S. government’s leading patent agency, Michelle Lee, has unexpectedly resigned from her post, according to multiple sources familiar with her plans.

Lee, a former lawyer for Google, took over the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office during the Obama administration, and many in the tech industry — which publicly supported her work — believed that President Donald Trump would renominate her to the critical government post.

But Lee instead informed the Commerce Department that she would be stepping down from the position. A spokesman for the agency did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment, nor did the White House. It is unclear if Lee is leaving government entirely or headed to another position.

Still, it could amount to a major blow for the tech industry. In April, a series of companies and their lobbying organizations — including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Samsung and others — publicly defended Lee’s tenure and asked Trump to renominate her for the agency.

“This is a critical time for the USPTO,” they wrote. “Patent quality, which had unfortunately been neglected for too long, is finally being recognized as critical to the strength and success of our patent system. 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.”

Lee also had her supporters in Congress — including California Rep. Darrell Issa, who previously said he had heard from the president that Lee would keep her job. In recent months, though, sources said that the Trump administration had started interviewing other potential candidates for the position.

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