Pritzker swears in patent director, names chief data officer

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker swore in Michelle Lee, the first woman director of the Patent and Trademark Office in the agency's 225-year history.

AUSTIN, TEXAS — It was a day of firsts for the Commerce Department Friday: During one of the first panels at the South By Southwest Interactive conference, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker swore in the first female director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and announced the department’s first chief data officer.

Michelle Lee, who was confirmed by the Senate to lead the patent office earlier this week, spoke with Pritzker about the need for a reformed patent process that will “identify opportunities for meaningful and balanced legislative reforms that strengthen the system for innovators.”

“I know that startups and other small businesses are especially vulnerable to abusive patent assertions, since the cost of patent litigation can easily exceed the amount of your latest round of funding,” Lee said. “As the discussion continues in Washington and around the country on how the patent system can best support innovation, I want to assure you that what is best for startups is an important part of that conversation.”

Prior to being sworn in, Lee spoke about the need for more women to get involved in tech communities, recalling her father’s work as a Silicon Valley engineer, which led her to pursue a degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and eventually go on to work for HP and Google.


“All of you here today have the capability to mentor, to open your networks, to volunteer, to teach and to inspire others about the things that inspire you and inspired me when I was a young girl: the wonders of technology, the excitement of entrepreneurship and the opportunity to change the world for the better through innovation,” Lee said.


Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker speaks at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. (Greg Otto/FedScoop)

Pritzker also announced Ian Kalin, formerly the director of open data at Socrata, as Commerce’s chief data officer. She said she aims to have Kalin harness the massive library of data the department collects, from weather and the economy to the American population.

Kalin “will take this treasure trove of data and make some value out of it,” Pritzker said. “We have so much information that could be used to start new businesses. We’re not trying to be government-as-entrepreneur; we are trying to be government-as-service-provider.”

Pritzker also spoke about two cybersecurity projects tied to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA is looking to create security standards for corporations and unmanned aerial vehicles, with a request for comments released for UAVs last week.


“This is where the private sector and the public sector have got to work together. We do not have it figured out,” Pritzker said. “Cybersecurity is a real threat to our the vibrancy of our economy. We need every company, whether you’re a startup or a well-developed, well-established business, to take cybersecurity seriously.”

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