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Medical Device Technology Partnership Meeting

Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for IP & Deputy Director of the USPTO Teresa Stanek Rea

January 29, 2013

Combined Medical Device & Biotechnology Partnership Meeting

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery 

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We are very happy to be hosting this partnership meeting on medical device technology, a subject that is near and dear to my own heart. For those of you watching the webcast, we have a great crowd here today, full of energy and enthusiasm. Let me thank Technology Centers 1600 and 3700 for sponsoring today’s event. The partnerships our Technology Centers engage in with the innovation community are of immense value to the USPTO and to society, and we love showcasing them.

Just last week we had another great partnership meeting here, on 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, and we plan to have many more meetings like these in the months and years ahead. Forming and maintaining strong partnerships with our stakeholders is a central mission for all of us here at the USPTO. You help us learn and improve the work we do for you, and, ultimately, improve the examination process and the quality of the patents and trademarks we issue.

You may not know this, but I have a pharmaceutical background, and much of my work as a patent practitioner was in biotech. So I am particularly intrigued by what we will be discussing here today. One of the things that has kept me interested in both life sciences and intellectual property law is the understanding that every new innovation has the potential to improve or to save lives. It is really humbling and awe-inspiring to reflect on that, to imagine the profound impact one idea—patented and marketed—can have on the world, and on our way of life.

For those who have seen the movie Lincoln, or have an interest in that period, just a couple of blocks to the east of here is the Alexandria National Cemetery. More than half of the soldiers buried there lost their lives fighting in the Civil War, and of those fallen, a significant percentage died not from injuries sustained in battle, but rather to disease from close contact with others in what were very poor sanitary conditions, to say the least. For me, those neat rows of white headstones are a very powerful and enduring reminder about the importance of medical advances and innovation. After the Civil War, new medicines and medical technologies were able to radically reduce the number of such needless deaths, and to greatly improve the odds of survival for those who did suffer grievous injuries on the battlefield.

And of course those same advances have benefited countless millions around the world since and inspired further improvements in the field of medical technology—all with the same American pioneer spirit that led our world into the age of flight, put a man on the moon, and opened up the limitless possibilities of cyberspace. That same, inspiring can-do spirit is alive and well today in the fields of medicine and medical technology. Dedicated research repeatedly unearths new, cost-effective ways to address cancer, cardiovascular disease, and a myriad of other health crises and challenges.

We are witnessing medical technology innovation that truly reflects the best of our 21st century economy. As nations around the world grapple with transnational public health issues, innovators are harnessing the power of the Internet to more efficiently collect, analyze, and share information about pandemic disease across those borders. Universities, start-ups and small, high-growth enterprises play crucial roles in these great efforts.

We often talk about our global economy, but of course we also live in a global community—with all that the word community implies. As President Kennedy once said, “In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” 

It was in that same spirit last February that we launched a 12-month pilot program called Patents for Humanity. It rewards companies that bring life-saving technologies to under-served regions of the world, and highlights positive examples of humanitarian actions that are compatible with business interests and strong patent rights. Winners will be chosen in four categories, one of which is medical technology. From life-saving medicines to medical diagnostic equipment to delivering potable water, technology can play a critical role in improving lives. To help facilitate that process, Patents for Humanity winners receive a certificate redeemable for accelerated processing of one select matter from the winner’s portfolio. We will be announcing winners of the competition this spring, so stay tuned. And just last week at their annual Global Technology Impact Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, Licensing Executives Society International honored our Patents for Humanity Program with their National IP and Technology Transfer Policy Award—of which we are very proud.

Something else about this industry that fascinates and inspires me is that, historically, medical device development was grounded in the mechanical sciences. But as the industry continues to leverage the cutting-edge potential of digital technologies—it is becoming increasingly more cross-disciplinary. Great new products in medical technology have one foot in neuroscience, another in software, and yet another in nano-tech. These kinetic realities demand intelligent engagement and a smarter intellectual property system to keep up. These sweeping revolutions in technology remind us of what the innovative drive and entrepreneurial spirit can do to build a better world 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.

Just look at the story behind patent number 8 million, issued in 2011. That is a nice round number, is it not? This was the 8 millionth patent issued by the USPTO since our beginnings in the late 1700s. The patent’s assignee, Second Sight—based in Sylmar, California—had a mission to develop, manufacture, and market visual prosthetics. In other words, to help the blind and visually impaired see, in a new sort of way. Their Argus II device does just that, allowing individuals to overcome their visual disability by interacting with their surroundings in unprecedented ways. By doing so, it also empowers them to live more independent lives. Second Sight is not just leveraging their patent protection to augment vision, but also to augment our nation’s economy, by creating nearly 100 American jobs.

Then there is the story of Dr. Gholam Peyman, the LASIK surgery inventor, who was recently named by President Obama as one of 12 newest recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The medal is awarded annually to individuals, teams of up to four individuals, companies, or divisions of companies for their outstanding contributions to America’s economic, environmental, and social well-being. Dr. Peyman will receive his medal in a ceremony this Friday in the White House. Dr. Peyman is an ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon who has more than 135 patents. His inventions cover a broad range of novel medical devices, intra-ocular drug delivery, surgical techniques, laser and optical instruments, as well as new methods of diagnosis and treatment. He has won numerous honors and awards, including induction into the Ophthalmology Hall of Fame.

By illuminating the surroundings that most of us take for granted, the technology behind the historic Argus II device and Dr. Peyman’s breakthrough LASIK procedure serve as critical reminders of how patents, the backbone of innovation, underwrite the next great chapters of advancement for our economy, our planet, and our human race.

We all know that such innovation does not come easily or without a price. The health care sector requires regular investments at different stages in company development in order for enterprises to grow. Our role at the USPTO is to help foster an environment that encourages the research, investment, manufacturing, and deployment of these life-changing technologies. That environment is one in which innovators can seek and obtain the intellectual property protection they need to recruit capital, hire workers, manufacture goods, and compete in the global marketplace.

That is why partnerships like this are so important. By remaining engaged in a constructive and collaborative dialogue with all of our stakeholders, we can work together to both grow our economy and improve lives. So thank you again for being here today. I am sure you will learn a lot, and leave inspired to continue to do great things!

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Last Modified: 2/6/2013 5:15:44 PM