Getting to Know Tech Geek and Tchaikovsky Fan, Michelle Lee


USPTO Director Michelle Lee at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, April 20, 2015.

Several days ago I published part 1 of my exclusive interview with USPTO Director Michelle Lee. In part 1 of our conversation we talked substance— from patent quality, to PTAB, to Supreme Court, power outage, the recently release Copyright White Paper, and more.

That leaves the fun questions, which really give us an opportunity to get to know Director Lee, the type of music she listens to, the movies she watches, what she reads and what she enjoys doing in her spare time.

Without further ado, here is the finale of my interview with Director Lee. We pick up our conversation talking about her recent trip to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and what captured the imagination of her inner tech geek.

QUINN: Well, I see I’m just about out of time. Maybe I can put a couple of these fun questions to you in writing, but the one that maybe would be great to do live would about CES. You were recently at the Consumer Electronics Show and I’m sure you saw some interesting things. What were some of the most interesting things that you saw that really caught your imagination as a scientist and somebody who is an innovation connoisseur?

LEE: Yes, I consider myself a tech geek, and I’m sort of proud of that and, of course, being —

QUINN: I wasn’t going to call you that. I call myself a geek too but yeah, so as a tech geek —

LEE: Yeah, and I’m proud of it.

QUINN: What did you see that captured the attention of your inner tech geek?

LEE: I actually think the world needs a few more geeks (and, as you know, I am trying to get more girls interested in studying STEM and to spark their interest in invention, creation, intellectual property and entrepreneurship). I think our economy and society will be better off for it, and it is part of the mission of the USPTO, which is to promote American innovation through intellectual property, I believe, across all geographic regions of the U.S. and across all demographics. But getting back to CES, it was incredible. The level of innovation, the spirit of innovation. As I said, it reminds us of why we do what we do at the USPTO. I had the opportunity to walk literally the miles of exhibits that are at CES and talk to the innovators and hear about their stories and ask them about how they’re using intellectual property to achieve their business goals. I saw some incredible innovations in the area of virtual reality, very realistic. You can look all around as if you’re in the environment. Drones and the applications of drones. Driver-less cars. And 3D printing. If I had to highlight some of the top amazing innovations, I think those would be some very exciting areas that we have to look forward to. It was very good for the USPTO to be there at CES. There were so many innovators and we were able to connect with them. I was the first USPTO Director to attend, and it was a real pleasure, but I also think it was great for the agency to be there with a booth to get out the message of intellectual property and the importance of intellectual property for innovators to help get their inventions to the marketplace.

QUINN: Are you already looking forward to going back next year?

LEE: I think the team should be on the ground next year because we were in Eureka Park, which is the area of CES where all the startups are. We received so much traffic to our booth and so many questions from attendees including about the basics: How do I file for a patent? What are the other forms of intellectual property? How do I register my trademarks? Every one of those booths at CES, Gene, has intellectual property. They have a brand; they probably have some special sort of technology that distinguishes themselves from their competitors that they hope will launch them into the marketplace and allow them to be very successful, and that’s all protectable by intellectual property. So it was absolutely the right thing for us to be there on the ground. I don’t know if I will be there again, but I think it makes a lot of sense for my team to be there answering questions from all sorts of innovators, not just the big companies but the small companies and the solos. We got a lot of questions and that was fantastic. That’s the right audience.

QUINN: What is your favorite hobby?

LEE: In no particular order, cooking, camping, hiking, catching a great classical ballet performance at the Kennedy Center and fishing. I still haven’t caught that “really big one” yet, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.

QUINN: What are you favorite sports?

LEE: I’m more into doing sports than watching it, to be honest. I enjoy skiing and also yoga and working out at the gym, if those count as sports.

QUINN: If and when you have any time to read for pleasure, what do you pick up to read? A novel? A magazine? The newspaper?

LEE: I’m a news junkie, and take it in from all types of sources. As far as books, I’m more inclined to read biographies over novels.

QUINN: Do you have favorite author?

LEE: So I just said I’m not a big novel reader, but my favorite author has to be John Steinbeck. Of course, it’s hard to grow up where I did, in the northern California region, and not be taken in by Steinbeck’s stories.

QUINN: Favorite movie?

LEE: So I have nothing against modern movies, but I still love some of the classics the most. You have to put Casablanca on the list, of course. Like many, I’m a big fan of the Godfather. And I have to admit that I absolutely love The Sound of Music.

QUINN: What kind of music do you listen to?

LEE: I like classical music but also rock. It really depends on my mood.

QUINN: Favorite bands or singers?

LEE: It’s hard to go wrong with The Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel. And I love anything by Tchaikovsky. I spent many years training in classical ballet, and before deciding I wanted to be an engineer, I dreamed of becoming a ballerina. I find classical ballet moves choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s music to be pure magic.

QUINN: Best fictional inventor? I can give you a couple choices. Q from James Bond, Tony Stark from Iron Man, or Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future. You can also go off the board.

LEE: Q from James Bond, of course!

QUINN: If you could meet one champion inventor, like Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers, who would it be and why?

LEE: So I would have to say Grace Hopper. Nothing against Edison or the Wright Brothers, but Dr. Hopper was not only a pioneering computer programmer, but her legacy continues as an inspiring role model for generations of young women computer programmers. We mentioned before how the world would benefit from a few more geeks. I want to see a world with more Grace Hoppers.

QUINN: Which historical figure would you most like to meet?

LEE: Mahatma Gandhi, whose selflessness and passion transformed a country and provided a role model for positive change.

QUINN: Star Wars or Star Trek?

LEE: I’d have to say Star Wars.

QUINN: Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?

LEE: Scotty!

QUINN: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time today.

LEE: Thank you, Gene. Appreciate it.


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