Michelle Lee (center left) during President Obama's 2016 signing of the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

Retailers and tech companies are joining in an effort to convince the Trump administration to keep the current director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or find someone like her.

In a letter sent Monday to President Trump and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, nearly 60 companies and associations, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, J.C. Penney, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Apparel & Footwear Association, lauded USPTO director Michelle Lee as a force who has worked to reform the country’s patent system.

The effort was prompted by confusion over Lee’s position, as the White House had refused to clarify her title after Trump became president. Lee was nominated in 2014 as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, which includes leading the patent office, by President Obama.

It wasn’t until early March that the USPTO confirmed that Lee remained its director, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a California-based lawyer.

Now, however, reports are circulating that Ross is considering a number of replacements for Lee, but the companies signing on to the letter think a new director could affect the USPTO’s renewed “commitment to quality and mitigating abuse of the system.”

“This is a critical time for the USPTO,” the signatories wrote. “Patent quality, which had unfortunately been neglected for too long, is finally being recognized as critical to the strength and success of our patent system. We have been very pleased with the leadership of Director Lee, who has been committed to making sure that the USPTO creates maximum economic benefit for American inventors and businesses.”

The signatories pointed out that Lee launched the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, an “important positive step forward” for intellectual property designations that improves the workload of examinations with a focus on issuing “high-quality” patents.

“Many of the changes arising from the EPQI are still in the pilot project stage, not fully implemented, or have yet to be fully tested,” the signatories wrote in the letter. “Continued commitment to EPQI from leadership at the USPTO is essential to ensuring meaningful improvements in patent quality.”

A representative of the USPTO and the White House could not be reached for comment.

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