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Anti-troll director of US Patent and Trademark Office resigns

Michelle Lee joined the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2012 and was named its interim director in 2013. The following year, she was formally nominated as director. She was the first woman to serve as director. Before joining the agency, she was an in-house attorney for Google.

The USPTO is a division of the Commerce Department. Its purpose is to review and approve applications for patents and trademarks, and to cancel patents it has previously issued.

During her tenure, according to Reuters, Lee garnered a positive reputation for fighting so-called "patent trolls," or companies that buy up broadly defined patents and use them to file lawsuits against legitimate patent holders. This is often done in an effort to achieve unwarranted settlements because defending even a valid patent claim can be costly enough that settling seems the better option.

Patent trolling is an abusive litigation practice that does not serve to protect any intellectual property or indeed any legitimate interest. It wastes the time and resources of legitimate patent holder, the agency and the courts.

Lee's efforts to stop patent trolling, along with a stricter regime of standards for software patents earned her favorable reviews by many in the industry. In fact, over 50 companies urged the Trump Administration to retain the Obama-era nominee. Facebook, Google, Amazon and Cisco Systems were among the companies that signed on to that letter, which was apparently successful. Earlier this year, the administration announced she would continue to serve under the new president.

"Michelle Lee has done an admirable job over the past two years guiding the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office," said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He went on to praise Lee's pro-innovation agenda.

No reason was given for Lee's resignation, which was announced on Tuesday. The Trump Administration has not yet put forth a new nominee for the position, and a USPTO spokesperson refused to speculate about a replacement.

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