Michelle K. Lee
Under Secretary for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce
Hometown: Santa Clara, CA
How did you get here?
I had the privilege of growing up in the Silicon Valley, one of the most innovative regions in the world, where my interest in science, technology, engineering and math was first sparked by my parents. As a girl, my father and I built a hand-held radio together, and I helped him install the burglar alarm system in our house. With that interest, I went off to MIT to study electrical engineering and computer science where I worked in the Artificial Intelligence lab as a graduate student. However, I was fascinated by a court case that was applying copyright law to protect a computer’s graphical user interface. I realized tackling the legal challenges posed by new technologies would be an exciting and dynamic way to apply my engineering background and to help shape the future of innovation. I decided to attend law school instead of pursuing a PhD in computer science. After law school, I clerked for federal judges, was in private practice, and eventually moved to, what was then, a relatively young company – Google. My team and I helped build the company’s patent portfolio from a few handfuls of patents to over 10,500 while using many of the services of the agency I now lead – the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
So many people have supported and helped guide my career, for which I am very grateful. I’ve had the privilege of wonderful parents, amazing teachers and generous mentors. These individuals inspire me to give back to the next generations coming up through the ranks, which is why I co-found an organization called “ChIPs” to support and promote the advancement, development and retention of women in technology and intellectual property. It’s also why I launched the USPTO’s AllinSTEM initiative, which encourages women at all stages – from girls to entrepreneurs – to pursue STEM degrees and work in STEM careers for the benefit of our economy and society.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
Our country has a proud tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship. Both have allowed our country to experience unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. But, in an increasingly global economy, we cannot take for granted that our country will at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurial activity. I am extremely proud of the opportunity to help, in a small way, ensure that our country remains at the forefront of innovation by developing, managing and supporting polices, programs and procedures that ensure that our greatest innovations are yet to come.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
It’s been a true honor and pleasure to serve my country with the many other dedicated public servants on my team.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
am spending time with my family or working out.