03.09.15

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, on the Confirmation of Michelle Lee to Serve as Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and Daniel Marti to Serve as Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator

I welcome the Senate’s action today to confirm two well-regarded practitioners to important leadership positions charged with protecting and promoting intellectual property.

Michelle Lee, who is nominated to serve as the Director of the Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), will be the first woman and first Asian Pacific American to hold this position. She is also the daughter of immigrants who moved to this country and contributed to the growth of Silicon Valley through her father’s career as an electrical engineer. Her historic nomination is an American success story, and it is fitting that she is confirmed today to lead the office that is home to countless stories of successful innovation and creation by Americans throughout the country.

The USPTO has been without a Senate-confirmed director for more than two years, which is far too long for an office that is so important to our nation’s innovators and to our economy. Close to 600,000 patent applications and 450,000 trademark class applications are filed with the Office each year.  By serving America’s innovators, the USPTO helps Vermonters and citizens across the country build their businesses and bring their inventions to the global marketplace.

Ms. Lee is charged with leading this Office at a time when too many bad actors are abusing the patent system. Something must be done to address misconduct by bad actors who are targeting everyone from small businesses in Vermont to larger companies that are crucial to our economy. Congress plays an important role in this discussion, and as I have said for the last two years, we must enact balanced reforms to ensure the patent system can thrive.  While that discussion continues in Congress, the USPTO Director must ensure the policies we currently have in place work for the diverse patent community.

Among those policies is carrying out the landmark reforms in the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the greatest transformation to our patent system in over 60 years.  This landmark law has helped simplify the process for patent approval, reduce backlogs at the USPTO, and harmonize our patent system with the rest of the world.  The AIA sought to improve patent quality by creating new and more efficient administrative proceedings at the USPTO.  Three years later, the USPTO has now received over 2000 petitions for post-grant review.  These measures are important to help businesses that fall into the cross-hairs of over-broad patents.  But improving the quality of patents also improves their value for inventors and investors, too.  The USPTO is doing tremendous work to implement these new programs under Ms. Lee’s current leadership as Deputy Director of the Office.  Because of the AIA, there are now four satellite offices around the country to make the USPTO more accessible to inventors and small businesses.  The USPTO has strengthened its pro bono program, and used its fee-setting authority created by the AIA to gain better financial independence. 

These are profound improvements, but strong leadership at the USPTO is needed to ensure the America Invents Act helps our patent system to thrive in the 21st century. As the USPTO’s Deputy Director, Ms. Lee has proven to be thoughtful, balanced, and respectful of the diverse perspectives across the patent community. I look forward to continuing the Judiciary Committee’s productive relationship with Ms. Lee and with the USPTO. 

I also welcome the Senate’s action today to confirm Daniel Marti as the second Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, or “IPEC.”  The IPEC was created by legislation I authored in 2008, the PRO-IP Act, which passed the Senate with unanimous support.  In creating this position, our goal was to take a comprehensive approach to intellectual property enforcement within the U.S. government, to ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs, and that agencies are working together efficiently.  The first IPEC, Victoria Espinel, built a strong record in this position, and I am confident Mr. Marti will do well continuing this important work.

The protection of intellectual property is important to our Nation’s creators, artists, inventors, and businesses alike.  Whether you are a filmmaker whose work is being copied and distributed online without permission, or a family-owned business in Vermont that discovers knock-off copies of its products being sold at half the price, intellectual property theft harms innovators across the country.  It also harms consumers, as we have learned from the repeated, devastating stories of victims who inadvertently purchased counterfeit medicines or other products not knowing they were of dangerously low quality.

The IPEC plays an important role coordinating law enforcement and industry efforts to address these pressing issues.  Nowhere is this work more important than in addressing counterfeiting and infringement in the online world—a complex, global problem that requires creative, thoughtful solutions.  Just last month, leading advertising networks announced a new initiative to help ensure that they avoid inadvertently supporting websites that serve no legitimate purpose other than to traffic in stolen content and property.  Search engines have now acknowledged that they, too, have a responsibility to help address illegal activity online.  I hope Mr. Marti will renew the IPEC’s work to support and encourage these voluntary initiatives, and will continue these efforts with other actors who drive so much of the online economy.  Every business that operates in the Internet ecosystem has a role to play. 

Mr. Marti is currently the managing partner of the Washington, D.C. office of Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton LLP.  A graduate of Georgetown University and Emory University School of Law, he has spent his entire legal career specializing in intellectual property law, with a focus in trademark law and the protection of intellectual property both domestically and internationally. 

I look forward to continuing the Judiciary Committee’s productive relationship with Mr. Marti and the IPEC office.  Last year, Senator Grassley and I sent a letter to President Obama urging him to nominate a candidate to fill the IPEC position, which has been vacant for over eighteen months.  I chaired a confirmation hearing for Mr. Marti in December in the hope that the Senate would move swiftly with his confirmation this year.  With Mr. Marti’s confirmation today, the IPEC office can return fully to its important work.

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