Sat. May 18th, 2024

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda.


As Commissioner for Trademarks at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), I oversee all aspects of the Trademarks organization including policy, operations, and budget related to trademark examination, registration, and maintenance.

I am not a “lifer” as most USPTO employees are.  I practiced law for 30 years before joining the Trademark Office in 2011. I started off in litigation but later shifted to trademarks.  As the daughter of an architect, I think the visual aspect of trademarks appealed to me.

Having spent the majority of my career as a customer of the USPTO, I bring a different perspective to the role.  Now being on the inside, I also appreciate how lucky I am to be at an agency where I have the opportunity to work alongside hundreds of devoted, talented public servants.

I was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina.  My dad is the person I have always admired most in the world.  His creed in life was “It pays to be nice to people.”  I try to live by those words.  I had an amazing education.  I was lucky enough to attend an all-girls school for high school which encouraged us to pursue our dreams.  I then went on to graduate from both Duke University and its arch rival the University of North Carolina School of Law.  I spent my junior year of college studying at French universities in Paris which was a horizon-expanding experience.  Years later, I am blessed to have a husband and four children who support my career.

Trademarks play a very important role in the world economy.  We have an amazing Trademark Office team working every day to protect consumers and provide benefits to businesses by effectively applying U.S. trademark laws. Through federal trademark registrations, consumers can identify the source of products and services, and businesses have reliable indicators of the quality of their marks.

Over the last several years, the Trademark Office has significantly expanded outreach to small businesses and entrepreneurs around the country via live seminars, videos, and website materials.  The office provides information about trademark ba­sics, enforcement measures, and tools available for protect­ing and enforcing trademark rights because we believe that protection of intellectual property should be at the forefront of every business plan. Through education in this area, the Trademark Office further strengthens commerce throughout the nation.

I believe that Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the trails blazed by so many women in the past.  Since I began practicing law in 1981, the business world has dramatically improved for women.  I no longer hear young women lawyers being called “lawyerettes” or being asked in interviews about their plans to have a baby or whether they use contraception. Women no longer need to dress like men at work by wearing a suit and tie.  Women have made great strides and the USPTO is a great place to work as a woman.  The USPTO’s award-winning telework program provides wonderful, flexible options for women who want to have a great career and a family.  The support of women comes from the top at the Department of Commerce and the USPTO.  In addition to Secretary Pritzker, the USPTO is led by Michelle K. Lee, the first woman director in the USPTO’s 225 year history.

My advice to women interested in a legal career is to persevere.  My sister (a very successful eminent domain lawyer) and I agree that perseverance is the number one thing to which we credit our success.   I also love the advice given to me 25 years ago by Judge Inez Smith Reid which was, “Whenever someone erects a barrier, walk around it.”


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