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Winning a Future by Women, for Women

Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce Teresa Stanek Rea

March 11, 2011

Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium

“Winning a Future by Women, for Women”

 

Thank you, Richard [Maulsby], for that incredibly warm introduction.

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Richard on his new appointment as the Associate Commissioner of Patents for Innovation Development. Richard had a long career dedicated to public service and the patent system, and now he’ll have the opportunity to lead this effort.

Let me begin by sincerely thanking each and every one of you for participating in today’s symposium. On behalf of the United States Patent and Trademark Office I am not only delighted to welcome you to our lovely campus here in Alexandria, Virginia but I am humbled and honored to be in a room full of women who represent the next generation of American innovators, thinkers and leaders.

I’m honored that United States Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana will be joining us to outline the essential roll women play in business, especially small business, which account for the next generation of jobs. I also want to welcome Courtney Gregoire, Director of President Obama’s National Export Initiative; and express the sincere thanks of the USPTO for Margot Dorfman and the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce for their partnership in hosting today’s dialogue.

We meet here at a time where we find ourselves at a crossroads in America's history and economic evolution. Never before has technology linked societies more closely together than they do today, and never before has innovation played such a vital role in spurring new growth, new jobs and new industries. And yet, despite all of our advancements, we bear witness to nations across the world struggling under the cloud of difficult economic times.  

That is why a conversation aimed at harnessing our entrepreneurial power is so essential. Because, the American capacity to endure—and stay economically competitive in the 21st century—is represented in this room today. It is represented within the entrepreneurial drive of students and technologists. It is represented in the mothers and daughters who manage the increasingly difficult pressures of work-life balance. And it is represented by the CEOs and lawyers who have gathered to share their observations and wisdoms.  

The story of achievement embodied in the women here today—much like the story of America itself—is about a daring and resilient few, willing to take a risk on an idea. Whether that risk is the name of a more perfect union, or to lead a company in an industry of men, one essential truth stands out: Your willingness—and the willingness of everybody in this room—to take a risk on a new cause, a new idea or a new invention is the path through which the next chapter of American growth will be written.  

In an increasingly globalized world, innovation has become the premiere, sustainable source of competitive advantage for our businesses to flourish. Not only can a novel idea spark a human willingness to explore, but it can move the pulse of an industry and transform the welfare of a society. That means that the women in this room are not just in the Intellectual Property or technology business—we’re in the economic development business, the growth business and the jobs business. 

Our willingness to stand up, take a seat at the table, test our ideas in the marketplace and raise capital for new endeavors will impact not only our ability to out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate our competitors, but they will fundamentally shape the future for our sons and daughters. So the question of what we can do to enhance female entrepreneurship begins by acknowledging that the 21st century is a technological one. And the leadership women have shown in recent history proves that we are an essential asset in winning America’s future. 

In fact, as of just a few years ago 7.8 million firms were owned by women. That accounts for nearly one-third of all privately held companies in the United States. Women-owned firms have generated $1.2 trillion in revenue and employ about 7.6 million workers. And the number of US patents filed by women in Information Technology in the past 30 years has increased five-fold from 1980 to 2005. But even though women continue to make a significant impact in cutting edge tools that drive our nation forward, there are still gaps.

Of 190 heads of state across the world, 9 are women. When you total up the world’s parliamentary systems, women make up only 13% of representation. And across major business only about 15-16% of women serve in the top executive, or C-suite level, positions.1 Even in the nonprofit world, where one would assume that women rein supreme in causes rooted in compassionate advocacy—only about 20% have women in the top Executive Director position.

A recent report prepared by White House Council on Women & Girls notes that in the last few years women earned about 57% of all college degrees, but less than half of those degrees were in math, and physical sciences; and even fewer were in computer science and engineering. More and more women are entering the work force and in some areas actually exceed the numbers of their male counterparts, but high-tech female entrepreneurs still raise significantly smaller amounts of financial capital for startups than men. Across the past 4 recessions, there has been less unemployment among women, and that is good, but on average they still earn only about 76% of what men do. 

Now let me be very clear: I am providing these statistics not so that we can feel sorry for ourselves. These disparities have not stifled our willingness to shatter glass ceilings in the past, nor should they dampen your ambitions for the future. But they do paint an important picture about a very real divide about the way in which one half of the world’s population is represented.

But for all the urgency that surrounds the question of what we can do to address these issues, there is a striking and important note of optimism—us. We are women technologists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders. And time and time again we have demonstrated our creativity and intelligence to drive innovation and connect communities. 

In 1989 Hillary Rodham Clinton established a Commission on Women in the profession at the American Bar Association. I have the pleasure of serving as a liaison to that Commission—and over time not only did I learn that the rates of females in leadership positions at the ABA were staggeringly low, but I also realized how important it was for us to maintain a network of support in our professional environments. Such collaborations build relationships than can be leveraged in business, but they also provide a direct forum to advance the causes women may face in any industry—legal or not.

That is why today’s conversation is vital. It will not only give us a chance to build a network of entrepreneurial support among women, but it will also identify strategies to leverage those relationships in driving business growth. It will allow us to highlight barriers that may be impeding the distribution of your intellectual property. And it will offer solutions for moving your technologies across markets in an increasingly globalized world.

And as we celebrate Women’s History Month and as we continue to fight battles as mothers and CEOs, sisters and inventors—our society as a whole also faces a new set of challenges that requires everybody in this room to unleash new ideas and build the foundation for the next century.  That is why your participation today is so important. Because this symposium highlights a clear and determined understanding by women for the need to shift our nation from a manufacturing based economy to an innovation and technology based economy. 

From the transcontinental railroad, to the electrification of the United States, to the national highway system—this country has always smartly used infrastructure to build new industries, new jobs and new heights of growth. Today that vital infrastructure is a stronger patent system. And we at the USPTO understand that our economic future will be strongly tied to our ability to recognize, foster, and cultivate the creativity, ideas and innovation from all our people—that’s what IP is all about. And that’s what today is all about.

Because when we band together to craft solutions and determine how to create an innovative economy that enables us to win the future, the whole world can realize what we’ve known all along—that women are an essential ingredient in strengthening the fabric of our families, our businesses and our nation.

Advancing our cause though, will not end up the responsibility of any one agency, or any one think-tank. We must all address and solve all matters of women’s rights. Women’s rights are human rights and if we’re going to serve as a driving force in this world the onus is on us to unleash our ingenuity upon our economic competitors. We must use the ideas generated here today to determine how best to harness our creative spirit and move forward. We have a lot of work to do so let’s get started.

I now have the honor to introduce Debbie Cohn our Commissioner for Trademarks here at the USPTO and Peggy Focarino, the Deputy Commissioner for Patents! 


1 TED Talks – Facebook COO and former US Department of Treasury Chief of Staff Sheryl Sandberg lecture in December 2010
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