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Former Google Lawyer Michelle Lee To Run US Patent Office 91

Posted by timothy
from the insiders-and-outsiders dept.
First time accepted submitter Tigger's Pet writes "The BBC report that 'Google's former top patent lawyer has been put in charge of America's patent and trademark office (USPTO). Michelle Lee was made deputy director of the USPTO this week and will run the agency while it seeks a new boss. Ms Lee joined the patent office after leaving Google in June 2012 but said the opinions of her former employer would not guide her work.' Maybe she will use her knowledge from some of the insanity she has seen to actually tackle the current situation of patents, patent-trolling and lawsuits, so that companies can concentrate on true development which benefits all their users, not just the lawyers."
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Former Google Lawyer Michelle Lee To Run US Patent Office

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  • Are you serious? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:49PM (#45696277)

    Yes, she's going to use her experience to right what's wrong with the patent system. That's totally how the revolving door works.

  • Really. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bovius (1243040) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:50PM (#45696281)

    "...but said the opinions of her former employer would not guide her work."

    I wonder if she rolled her eyes and winked after saying this.

    This is one of those situations where I think the chosen person could actually do an enormous amount of good if they had the will to, but I have little to no hope that that will be the actual outcome.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      She will be working in the Obama administration. I assure you she will be a crony corporatist puppet.

      • Re:Really. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:12PM (#45696469)

        She will be working in the Obama administration. I assure you she will be a crony corporatist puppet.

        You tell''em!

        Back in the days of the Bush Administration, we NEVER had to worry about Crony Capitalism! Why Dick Cheney HIMSELF made sure that Afgan and Iraq wars were supplied by the most transparent and competitively bid government contracts EVER!

        I miss Bush! With the economy the way it is, it's obvious that we need more wars to boost the economy. Fuck it! Let's invade Syria AND Iran!

        After all, there are MILLIONS of unemployed young people in this country and what better purpose for them than to die for a bogu...necessary war to fight for Freedom!

        Freedom isn't Free - ya know!

        • Re:Really. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by king neckbeard (1801738) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:05PM (#45696885)
          Bush being a crony corporatist doesn't mean Obama isn't also a crony corporatist. In fact, if they have an (R) or a (D) in front of their name, they are probably a crony corporatist.
      • Re:Really. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Gavagai80 (1275204) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:20PM (#45696547) Homepage
        So you want to hire someone fresh out of law school who never worked for a company, or what?
        • OK (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          So you want to hire someone fresh out of law school who never worked for a company, or what?

          Absolutely!!!!!!

          They'd be idealistic and not jaded - corrupted. They would have the Constitution in their eyes and fight for freedom, justice and the American way! But ....

          See, Lee has been in industry, she'll play around as an administrator and when done, make the REALLY big bucks! She'll make deals, slip things into regs that'll help past or future employers, learn the system, and well, fuck We the People.

          It's the same old shit. Connected people getting high level Gov jobs to make even more money and ge

        • Someone fresh out of some engineering school would probably be better, actually.
        • Re:Really. (Score:4, Funny)

          by StripedCow (776465) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:29PM (#45697091)

          So you want to hire someone fresh out of law school who never worked for a company, or what?

          I was more thinking along the lines of a Zen Buddhist monk.

    • by swillden (191260)

      "...but said the opinions of her former employer would not guide her work."

      I wonder if she rolled her eyes and winked after saying this.

      This is one of those situations where I think the chosen person could actually do an enormous amount of good if they had the will to, but I have little to no hope that that will be the actual outcome.

      So do you believe she was serious or not? Because if she allowed the opinions of her former employer to guide her work, she'd do an enormous amount of good by mostly eliminating software patents.

      • You assume google wants to get rid of software patents, rather than corner the market?

        • by swillden (191260)

          You assume google wants to get rid of software patents, rather than corner the market?

          It's not an assumption. Google dislikes software patents and actively lobbies against them. Google has been forced to play the patent game or be destroyed by lawsuits, but the company really doesn't like it.

  • Summary is spot on: Obviously, patents exist "so that companies can concentrate on true development which benefits all their users". An individual with a patent? Yeah, right...
  • But said the opinions of her former employer would not guide her work.
    Maybe she will use her knowledge from some of the insanity she has seen to actually tackle the current situation of patents, patent-trolling and lawsuits, so that companies can concentrate on true development which benefits all their users, not just the lawyers.

    His response. [youtube.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well at least she might be able to teach the examiners how to google for prior art.

  • I'd expect it to become swifter for "established" patent holders to get their patents approved, while individual patent holders get left out in the cold. It has been burdensome for professionals like her, and there may be some collateral benefit to smaller companies and individuals.

    But the patent system is fundamentally overwhelmed and burdened, now, by software patents. Abandoning those would eliminate jobs for many patent lawyers, but would shorten time to market and free up developers to use well-known

    • by StripedCow (776465) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:07PM (#45696435)

      The biggest problem right now is that the USPTO is being paid for the amount of patents that is approved, as opposed to being paid for the amount of patents that are turned down (due to prior art, etc.)

      It is a bit like paying fishermen for the amount of fish they *didn't* catch.

      If she would accept this change in financial dependence, then I'd say there is hope. But right now I don't see it happening.

      • by Trepidity (597) <(gro.hsikcah) (ta) (todhsals-muiriled)> on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:21PM (#45696559)

        Huh, I didn't realize that. Looks like, for large companies at least (there are some discounts for individual inventors), the fees [uspto.gov] break down roughly like this:

        • Filing/search/examination fees: $1600
        • Issuance of an approved patent: $1780
        • Maintenance of an approved patent over its full lifespan: $12,600

        So basically the USPTO gets $1600 if the patent is rejected, or $15,980 if it's approved.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The lyrics of the US national anthem should be changed to "Fuck you, I got mine"

        • Huh, I didn't realize that. Looks like, for large companies at least (there are some discounts for individual inventors), the fees [uspto.gov] break down roughly like this:

          • Filing/search/examination fees: $1600
          • Issuance of an approved patent: $1780
          • Maintenance of an approved patent over its full lifespan: $12,600

          So basically the USPTO gets $1600 if the patent is rejected, or $15,980 if it's approved.

          ... the latter of which are over the course of 12 years. Plus, that's only if the patent is maintained for its full term, and not many are, particularly in the computing industry. Why pay $16k in maintenance fees on a patent on a technology that's obsolete?

          • A technology is not obsolete if it's required for interoperating with the installed base.
          • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @04:31PM (#45698143)
            Being obsolete doesn't mean that the patent isn't useful. If you manage to dupe the USPTO into granting you are patent on a necessary piece (or one that has become so commonplace to be necessary for interoperability reasons), you can ambush most anybody in the field. A good example would be the FAT filesystem. It wasn't a particularly great filesystem, and there are certainly better choices for anything you would do, ignoring the infrastructure. However, in reality, it is a virtual necessity to use either it or NTFS on any portable device that will be communicating with a desktop due to the dominant role of Microsoft there. There are plenty of operating systems that would make a great substitute if MS supported filesystems that they didn't create (with minor exceptions for things like ISO 9660.

            You also don't seem to be understanding the criticism. The USPTO gets paid as much or more for accepting a patent than they do for rejecting it. Now, not all patents will be taken to full term, but more than zero of them will be. Therefore, the USPTO has incentives to approve patents.
            • Being obsolete doesn't mean that the patent isn't useful. If you manage to dupe the USPTO into granting you are patent on a necessary piece (or one that has become so commonplace to be necessary for interoperability reasons), you can ambush most anybody in the field.

              Yes, but the conclusion that the USPTO makes the majority of their fees post-grant relies on the premise that the majority of these patents have maintenance fees paid. And, as you note, that relies on a premise that a majority are "commonplace" that are used to "ambush" people. However, the premise is false [patentlyo.com].

              You also don't seem to be understanding the criticism. The USPTO gets paid as much or more for accepting a patent than they do for rejecting it.

              No, I understand the criticism. I'm merely pointing out that it's based on a false conclusion from an erroneous premise. In reality, not only are the majority of patents abandoned during their lifetime,

              • Yes, but the conclusion that the USPTO makes the majority of their fees post-grant relies on the premise that the majority of these patents have maintenance fees paid.

                No, if only one in a hundred meets the maintenance fees, it's around a 10% increase in income from maintenance fees. It doesn't really matter how low it is, because there is no incentive for not paying maintenance

                And, as you note, that relies on a premise that a majority are "commonplace" that are used to "ambush" people. However, the premis

                • Not at all. They have to at least pretend to do their job. Let's say that absent economic incentives, the allowance rate would be 5%. In that case, 49.2% is almost ten times the rate and the USPTO is incredibly broken. They can be doing a horrible job due to perverse incentives without being 100% cronies. It's the same thing with police departments and their perverse incentives. They have incentives to write bullshit tickets and seize everything that they can, but cops do spent a lot of their time doing things other than that.

                  However, let's say that absent economic incentives, the allowance rate would be 95%. Then clearly, 49.2% represents an incredibly stingy allowance rate, and the USPTO is incredibly biased against patents.

                  See? Unsourced numbers can be pulled from your ass to support any conclusion with equal credibility, whether it's my 95% or your 5%... "equal" credibility still being "zero" credibility. On the other hand, actual numbers, specifically the 49.2% allowance rate and the 87.2% initial rejection rate, refute yo

                  • Your numbers refute nothing. The claim is that the way fees work creates a perverse incentive. You provide the allowance rate as evidence to the contrary, but those numbers are useless without context or a baseline. We know what the numbers are with the current incentives. We don't know how much they would differ if those incentives were neutralized. I wasn't saying that the allowance rate was 5%, but was instead giving an example to prove my point. In your hypothetical, that would be the case as well
                    • Your numbers refute nothing.

                      Actually, they refute your logical conclusion by showing that its based on a false premise. Additionally, unlike your numbers, mine are based in reality. You have no real numbers period.

                      We know what the numbers are with the current incentives. We don't know how much they would differ if those incentives were neutralized.

                      Begging the question. I disagree that they're even "incentives", and my actual numbers show that they do not appear to be, since if anything, the USPTO has a greater incentive to reject applications and collect fees for RCEs and appeals.

                      Additionally:

                      It's not unreasonable to draw suspicion on this practice, because the actual costs of maintenance are basically nothing. $7,500 for rubber stamping a continuation? That's quite fishy, and seems like it would be difficult to justify.

                      You apparently have no idea what you're talking about. Maintenance fees hav

                    • by nephorm (464234)
                      Examiners don't get paid more to allow an application than to reject it. So whatever institutional incentives you might believe are present, you'd need to show what incentives exist for examiners to allow - especially when continuing to reject and forcing applicant to file RCEs is definitively in the examiner's interest.
                    • Actually, they refute your logical conclusion by showing that its based on a false premise. Additionally, unlike your numbers, mine are based in reality. You have no real numbers period.

                      Your numbers a real, but not meaningful to the conversation at hand. We know the numbers with our current incentives, but not the numbers in their absence. We can conclude that the USPTO is not completely ruled by those numbers, but we can't conclusively say whether or not they are influenced by them. I never claimed tha

          • by Archwyrm (670653)
            Because $16K over 12 years is chump change for most of the companies filing patents. Also they seem to have this paranoid notion that it is much better to keep around something that they might need than not have it and want it later.
            • Because $16K over 12 years is chump change for most of the companies filing patents. Also they seem to have this paranoid notion that it is much better to keep around something that they might need than not have it and want it later.

              Most of the companies filing patents are filing dozens, if not hundreds, each year. Over 12 years, you could easily end up with a portfolio of patents numbering in the thousands. For example, everyone's favorite patent troll company, Intellectual Ventures, has upwards of 80,000 patents, so for them, you're talking about maintenance fees of over a billion dollars over those 12 years, if they maintain all of them for the full term.

  • Or... (Score:4, Informative)

    by swb (14022) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:05PM (#45696411)

    "Maybe she will use her knowledge from some of the insanity she has seen to actually tackle the current situation of patents, patent-trolling and lawsuits, so that companies can concentrate on true development which benefits all their users, not just the lawyers."

    Or maybe she will use her knowledge to simply reinforce the patent system so that holders of large patent portfolios with products in the market are just more immune from all patent challenges, not just trolling challenges.

    Which would actually be a worse outcome, since at least the broken system seems to be allowing patent challenges, even though they appear to be cynically motivated.

    It's not at all hard to see a trolling "fix" that simply denies challenges. It's easy to see some law getting passed that says "well, you may have a patent for X used in Company's Product Y, but because they have a working product an N other patents for the product, the product would exist anyway because your patent is only a small part of a larger entity."

    And now you've eliminated trolling, but you've also made it so that big companies can just steal things from startups or smaller competitors.

    • by Chalnoth (1334923)

      To the extent that she gets her perspective of patents from working for Google, she won't do this. Google is still a pretty young company, with relatively few patents (though the Motorola merger netted them a number of them). Coming from that atmosphere of a relatively small upstart struggling against the much larger patent portfolios of its older competition, she's much more likely to find sympathy with those who have concern about patent trolls and companies using patents to enforce market power than sh

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Internal design:

    (Receive form)
    IF forms not filled out completely THEN reject immediately
    ELSE IF Submitter is Google THEN move to acceptance queue
    ELSE move to prior art search queue for processing by Google

  • In any case I don't see how this help limit patents. Google after all, IIRC, hold a patent for scanning personal data and targeting advertisement based on keywords. If there is an obvious patent, that would be it. The fact is that Google simply did not have the good sense, or maybe the creativity, to develop patents over time the way that many other companies have done over the past 100 years. It was mostly just in business to make money through the obscurity of it adsense software. Acknowledging it's m
  • ...all voted for this crap, you'll get what you deserve, and you'll like it. Did you really think president Goldman Sachs, would put someone neutral in charge of the Patent office? No, it's fascism all the way down with these people. Wake up.
  • This is rather like Monsanto, Tyson, Smithfield, etc people working for the USDA. There needs to be serious enforcement of the conflict of interest prevention.

    • by Animats (122034)

      This is rather like Monsanto, Tyson, Smithfield, etc people working for the USDA. There needs to be serious enforcement of the conflict of interest prevention.

      Right. She's only temporary, though. She's been appointed deputy director, and the director slot is vacant. There's a power vacuum at the top of the USPTO; in the last few months, the director (Kappos, who was a good guy), the deputy director, and the general counsel quit.

      "Head of the Silicon Valley office of the USPTO" - not. There is no Silicon Valley office of the USPTO [uspto.gov]. It was killed by budget cuts. [arstechnica.com] So the USPTO had a spare manager around. There's a power vacuum at the top of the USPTO; in the last f

      • by nephorm (464234)
        First, Kappos was head counsel at IBM before coming to the PTO, and he worked out very well. Second, there is a Silicon Valley Office; it is currently staffed by Board judges: http://www.uspto.gov/blog/director/entry/an_update_on_our_dallas [uspto.gov] Third, the point of the branch offices was to attempt to recruit Patent Examiners from these areas. It has been very difficult for the PTO to convince qualified engineers in California to come to the Alexandria campus for training. Examiners are required to work on-sit
  • Once a lawyer, always a lawyer.

  • Dream on (Score:4, Insightful)

    by namgge (777284) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @04:35PM (#45698179)
    I seriously doubt that Google being her previous employer/client will make any difference to how she runs the USPTO. My experience, admittedly in the UK, is that a lawyer will happily argue that the moon is made of green cheese without believing it in the slightest. And they'll keep on arguing it for just as long as the client has money to keep paying them.
    • by RyoShin (610051)

      I agree. So we need to ask the question: Who is her client? Google, the US Government, or the US People?

      It has been shown, especially as late, that those employed by the government are not necessarily working for the government. And rare is the case where someone working for the US Government is also working for the US People...

  • Alex, I'll take 'Regulatory Capture for $800'.

    • by dkf (304284)

      Alex, I'll take 'Regulatory Capture for $800'.

      The USPTO was 'Regulatory Capture'd by lawyers long ago.

  • From summary:

    Maybe she will use her knowledge from some of the insanity she has seen to actually tackle the current situation of patents, patent-trolling and lawsuits, so that companies can concentrate on true development which benefits all their users, not just the lawyers.

    Or maybe she won't

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This guy, who has been waging the battle for a very long time, thinks this is a good appointment.
    http://keionline.org/node/1853 [keionline.org]

  • Unfortunately people being people she will use her knowledge of Google's concerns and her prior connections with Google to advance their agenda. That's human nature. To claim it won't affect her decision making is naive.
  • The Fox is in charge of the hen house

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