By Executive Order dated February 24, 2017, President Donald J. Trump proclaimed: “It is the policy of the United States to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.” In this Executive Order, President Trump ordered the heads of each agency to designate a Regulatory Reform Officer (RRO) within 60 days. The Executive Order also required agencies to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force with the job of identifying regulations for repeal.
On March 24, 2017, the USPTO announced that Michelle Lee had “assembled a Working Group on Regulatory Reform” and that members of this Working Group will also represent the USPTO on the Department of Commerce’s Regulatory Reform Task Force.” While the USPTO continues to operate as if Lee is the Director of the Office, as of the date of this article the Commerce Department website’s leadership page continues to list the position of Director of the USPTO as vacant and it is an open secret that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has interviewed multiple candidates for the position.
The announcement by the USPTO that Lee had assembled a Working Group did not name the members of the Working Group, nor did it identify the Working Group as being the Regulatory Reform Task Force called for in Executive Order 13777. Furthermore, the announcement stated that Nicolas Oettinger would lead this effort, but did not name him as the Regulatory Reform Officer. Suspicious at what seemed rather careful wording in the USPTO announcement I contacted the Office of the Chief Communications Officer and was told that no information could be provided on whom Lee selected to serve on the Working Group. I was also told no information could be provided on whether Oettinger was named the Regulatory Reform Officer pursuant to Executive Order 13777.

From USPTO spokesperson

“USPTO will comply with the requirements of Executive Order 13771 (the “2-for-1” Executive Order), and Executive Order 13777 (which directed agencies to establish Regulatory Reform Task Forces). The Department of Commerce has created an agency Regulatory Reform Task Force as required by 13777, and USPTO participates as a member on that DOC Task Force. To support the priorities of both Executive Orders, USPTO has assembled a Working Group on Regulatory Reform, with members from all the business units that handle USPTO’s regulations, who are reviewing USPTO’s regulations and looking for places where improvements and efficiencies can be achieved. The Working Group has also established an e-mail address where members of the public may submit their ideas to improve, revise, and streamline USPTO regulations.”

What does it all mean?

That is a very good question. It seems that what I’ve been provided is very little more (if at all more) than what the USPTO announced on March 24, 2017.
What I do know is that the Department of Commerce has created a Regulatory Reform Task Force and that the USPTO will participate on that Commerce Department Regulatory Reform Task Force in some unexplained and rather ambiguous capacity.

Over the last three months bizarre has become the new normal at the USPTO. Although Lee continues to function by all outward appearances as Director of the Office, with the Supreme Court inviting her to submit a brief, by participating in meetings of the Public Patent Advisory Committee, being introduced as Director at industry events, and identified in a FOIA request by the USPTO as being Director, but there still has been no official announcement by the White House or the Department of Commerce about her status and the Commerce Department website has since January 20, 2017 listed the position of Director of the USPTO as “Vacant.” Bizarre is indeed the new normal at the USPTO.