Senate Republican to Obama: Fill top patent spot

Greg Nash

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is pressuring President Obama to end the 16-month vacancy at the top of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).

“Leaving the agency without a permanent director for nearly a year and a half without so much as a public explanation is inexcusable,” Hatch wrote in a letter to Obama on Monday.

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The top job at the PTO has been open since former Director David Kappos left the agency in January 2013, raising concerns from some in the intellectual property community.

In December, former Google executive and director of the PTO’s Silicon Valley office Michelle Lee was named deputy PTO director.

While Lee “has done an admirable job juggling the functions and duties of both director and deputy director ... this arrangement cannot continue,” Hatch wrote.

“Without a director backed by a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation, the USPTO does not have a leader who can engage in the type of strategic and long-term planning that is crucial for ensuring the USPTO’s continued effectiveness.”

Hatch pointed to “important initiatives” at the PTO, including efforts to open satellite offices, implement procedures mandated by the 2011 America Invents Act and deal with a backlog of more than 600,000 patent applications.

Leaving Lee along at the top of the agency “is unfair, untenable and unacceptable for our country’s intellectual property agency,” he wrote.

Hatch — who was a vocal player in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s now-defunct attempts to craft a patent reform bill — urged Obama to “take prompt action to nominate a USPTO director.”

“We cannot afford to wait any longer,” he wrote.