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The Historic Visions That Build a Nation

Under Secretary of Commerce for IP & Director of the USPTO David Kappos

September 8, 2011

Patent Number 8 Million Ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

“The Historic Visions That Build a Nation”

Prepared Remarks as Delivered

 Good morning everybody, and thank you for joining us for this historic celebration—one that commemorates the intersection of American entrepreneurship and our nation’s innovation system. 

I especially would like to thank Betsy Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for allowing us to honor the great inventors of our history in these halls—halls that we at the United States Patent and Trademark Office once called home. The opportunity to commemorate Patent No. 8 Million here is not only fitting, but also a powerful, visual reminder of what promoting and protecting innovation means for this country.

The USPTO granted its first numbered patent in 1836, and while it took 75 years to get to patent No. 1 million, it has taken us just six years to go from 7 million patents to 8 million.

Sweeping revolutions in technology not only demand that our nation’s innovation infrastructure keep up in protecting and distributing the tools of innovation, but they also remind us of what the innovative drive and entrepreneurial spirit can do to build a better world.

Whether it’s a method to extract new energy solutions from E.Coli bacteria, a process for strengthening tires to offer automotive safety in extreme weather, or new tools to communicate instantly across continents via computer files— the USPTO’s million patent milestones underscore that in the face of some of the most daunting challenges humans confront on this planet, the power to innovate is the power to lead—by design and by solution.

And that brings us to Patent Number 8 million, and to its assignee, Second Sight.

Through unrelenting research and creativity, Second Sight’s mission to develop, manufacture and market visual prosthetics, embodies leadership. The device we celebrate today is not only a milestone in American patent history, but also a milestone for the blind. Allowing them to interact with the world in unprecedented ways and empowering the visually impaired to achieve greater independence.

By adding sight to what the blind already smell, touch, feel and hear—today the power of the patent is being used to harness the 5th sense, affording a chance to experience the world with a visual narrative.

Based in Sylmar, California, Second Sight’s Dr. Robert Greenberg, Kelly McClure and Arup Roy hold 90 patents in the United States for sight restoration technologies. And they’re not just leveraging those patent protections to augment vision, but also to augment our nation’s economy, by creating nearly 100 American jobs.

By illuminating the surroundings that most of us take for granted, there is no doubt that this technology is historic in its own right. But the Argus II device that embodies Patent No. 8 Million also serves as a critical reminder of how patents, the backbone of innovation, underwrite the next great chapters of advancement for our economy and our planet.   

They allow everyone—no matter their age—and every business—no matter their size—to raise the capital and  hire the employees it takes to make sure society can benefit from groundbreaking products, tools and services.

Patents also allow us to continuously reshape, retool and reevaluate the world around us—building upon previous platforms of invention to raise the collective prospects for all corners of the world.

And the beauty of that innovative pursuit is that there really is no end in sight. It’s that infectious curiosity to experiment that has propelled the biotechnology, nanotechnology and even social networking industries to sprout up nearly over night. And it’s that infectious curiosity to explore that drives small and independent inventors to create great new inventions and ultimately file new patents and trademarks at the USPTO. 

This year alone USPTO will receive over half-a-million patent filings—and nearly that many trademark filings. Now certainly this expands our work load—and while on most days the backlog of patent applications that our team of examiners have to review is decried—today I submit that we celebrate that surplus of ideas. Today I submit that we applaud the drive to create that catalyzed Second Sight’s break-through.  Because whether Patent No. 1 or Patent No. 8 Million—today we celebrate that American innovation has no end and continues to drive the opportunity that makes this country great, generation after generation.

American exceptionalism hasn’t just defined our leadership on the world stage: It has allowed us fly; it’s allowed us to plant a flag on the moon; and it’s allowed us to transcend borders, through the power of information technology. 

These accomplishments have all been accelerated by strong patents, and a strong United States Patent and Trademark Office. High-quality patent rights are vital to small and new businesses, enabling them to hire new employees and invest in developing their products. But in order to ensure that America retains its role as the chief visionary & chief competitor of our planet, there is more we must do. 

Right now, the U.S. Senate has the power to send to the President, the America Invents Act, a patent reform bill that will optimize our nation’s innovation system by promoting clearer and more certain intellectual property rights. 

This legislation, as it currently stands before the Senate, provides the USPTO with the tools it needs to effectively expedite application processing, drive down the backlog of unexamined patent applications, and issue higher-quality patents that are less likely to be subject to a court challenge—all without adding a dime to the deficit. 

This bill also substantially improves USPTO’s current funding situation. For the first time, the USPTO will have the ability to set its fees to recover the actual costs of the services it provides.  And, significantly, for the first time, the bill creates a process that will help the Office to access all of the fees it collects. In this regard, we appreciate the strong support and continuing commitment of Members of Congress and our stakeholders to ensure that the USPTO has the funding it needs to get the job done and spur American innovation. 

I also applaud the Senate’s procedural vote on the bill, two days ago, and I urge the Senate to move swiftly and send the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to the President’s desk.

Historic idea makers, like those we honor today, are a keen reminder that our nation was built on the backs of those willing to challenge traditions—willing to push the boundaries of convention—and willing to test the limits. 

Because while each and every American patent embodies tales of both glory and failure, the lesson today’s celebration imparts, is a lesson as old as this country itself: 

An acknowledgement that ideas—grand & small, obvious & subtle—much like the great experiment of America herself, are never exhausted. They are in limitless supply. 

And by enacting patent reform immediately, we can usher those ideas to the market place sooner—unlocking new technologies, unleashing new industries and giving way to new jobs that will sharpen America’s competitive edge. 

So I’d like to thank Second Sight for inspiring us all to keep dreaming, testing, experimenting and patenting—and for demonstrating that patented American ingenuity will continue to drive our nation’s growth.

Thank you.

It now gives me great pleasure to introduce a champion of America’s intellectual property system and an ardent supporter of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Ladies & Gentlemen, please welcome Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce—Dr. Rebecca Blank!

  

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