WXXI AM News

New Patent and Trademark Office Director Michelle Lee looks to broaden STEM appeal

Originally published on June 18, 2015 1:27 pm

When President Obama named Michelle Lee as Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, she became the first woman to hold that position in the agency’s 225-year history.

Lee, is working to make sure she’s not an anomaly and bring more women and minorities into STEM careers.

The Innovation Trail’s Jenna Flanagan recently met up with Director Lee in New York City.

“Any goal of the United States Patent and Trademark office at the highest level is to promote innovation. That’s in men women, boys and girls.”

Michelle Lee hails from Silicon Valley where technology and innovation go hand in hand. She came to the head the USPTO after studying electrical engineering and computer science and then moving into intellectual property law. But she says her love of STEM began long before that.

“I built a radio as a young girl with my dad and I loved math I loved science, I loved building things.”

As the mother of a young daughter, Lee would like to see that same spirit spread across the country.

“I have a particularly strong interest in promoting and encouraging more girls to enter in the Science Technology Engineering and Math fields, I think we need more of them there are not enough. We need all hands on deck cause if we’re gonna compete globally and internationally in the innovation economy we need every body contributing. We can’t leave behind a single inventor or entrepreneur; you never know what company they may found or what kind of jobs they may create and economic prosperity they may create.” 

Lee says her office has been working with groups like the Girl Scouts of America on an Intellectual Property patch. And it’s not just girls, they have programs for all young children.

“Camp invention. Elementary school kids they spend one week, they do on site, they have a pile of stuff, toilet paper rolls, wire motors batteries and they have to create something they have to design it they have to implement a prototype, they have to redesign, they have to build something and then they have to sketch out some intellectual property protection for it and perhaps even a business model. So to the extent that we can instill in our youngsters a passion for science, not text book science but practical hands on science, application creation invention I think our country, our economy will be better off for it.”

She says America is in no danger of running out of ideas to patent and start-ups to create;butt need the help and guidance to compete successfully on nationally and at the global level.