Introduction to the Great American Hall of Wonders Lecture

Under Secretary of Commerce for IP and Director of the USPTO David J. Kappos

December 1, 2011

Claire Perry Lecture on the Great American Hall of Wonders


Draft Remarks as Prepared for Delivery


Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for coming. And very special thanks to our distinguished guest, Ms. Claire Perry, for graciously accepting our invitation to be here today. I'm very thrilled and honored that she could make it.

Back in July, I was privileged to be present at the Smithsonian American Art Museum for the opening of Claire's exhibit, The Great American Hall of Wonders. Launched in collaboration with the USPTO, the exhibit offers viewers a glimpse into the great inventions of past generations. The accompanying lecture Claire gave that day-a wonder in itself-helped conceptualize, through the use of art, how we as a nation have grown and transformed as a result of those innovations. I kept wishing that our entire PTO team could be there to enjoy Claire's lecture with me, so I did the next best thing and invited her here for an encore presentation; what better place to reflect on the importance of American ingenuity and innovation?

From 1802 until today-through two of the most momentous centuries in human history-it has been the role of this organization to help bring the wonders of American innovation to life, and to protect the rights of the visionary women and men who dreamed them up in their workshops and laboratories. With so many patent applications every year, and so much work for our examiners, we may not always pause to appreciate the remarkable wellspring from which that innovation flows.

But with the recent passage of the America Invents Act and the Administration's emphasis on fostering innovation, there has never been a more opportune time than the present for Americans everywhere-not just in the IP community-to reflect upon our country's rich history of ingenuity and experimentation. And there has never been a more opportune time to reflect on its influence not only on the development of our own country, but on the rest of the world as well. The timeliness and relevance of Claire's exhibit could not be more profound.

Consider, for a moment, the wonderful exhibit upstairs. How many of you have seen visitors photographing it with their own iPhone? How many of you have done the same? Chances are, some of you are probably using your own iPhones as I speak, checking e-mail or texting one another with questions like, "When will Kappos get to the point?" It's okay. I understand. It's hard to believe we ever lived without them, isn't it? That's the influence Steve Jobs had on our society. His visionary work transformed our relationship with technology forever, and empowered us in ways we'd never dreamed were possible.

Earlier this year, the world witnessed historic revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East that were fueled, in no small part, by Facebook and Twitter, social networking platforms dreamed up in one case at a college dorm room on the East Coast, and in the other at a small start-up on the West Coast. I'm sure none of the young visionaries who designed those networking sites ever imagined they would unleash political revolutions across the ocean within the span of a few years, but that's exactly what happened.

Thanks to American innovations and technology, we live in an ever-smaller and increasingly interconnected world, where a small handful of college students with a little imagination and initiative can change the course of history. That's why the work we do here at the USPTO is so important. With the power of the patent behind them, future generations of American innovators can continue to change the world in profound and lasting ways.

Claire's superb studies in 19th century cultural history-culminating in the remarkable exhibit now on display at the Smithsonian-vividly remind us of our roots and traditions as an energetic, innovative, and democratic people. Not surprisingly, she comes to us with an impressive background in academia, art, and history. To begin with, she has a very rare combination of degrees-a bachelor's in international economics from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and a doctorate in art history from Stanford University-a combination that seems uniquely relevant to the themes of her current exhibit and today's lecture.

From 1999 to 2008, Claire was the curator of American art at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center, where she organized several exhibitions, including American ABC: Childhood in the Nineteenth Century and Pacific Arcadia: Images of California, 1600-1915-each of which was accompanied by a full-length book that she wrote. Claire also organized the installation of permanent art galleries at Stanford, taught courses for undergraduate and graduate students, and was responsible for public educational programs related to American art and the acquisitions of American works.

Her latest published book, The Great American Hall of Wonders: Art, Science, and Invention in the Nineteenth Century, is a captivating companion-piece to her exhibit, which will remain on display at the Smithsonian until January 8. If you haven't seen it already, please, pick a day sometime during the next month, perhaps during the winter holiday, and take some family or friends to see it with you. You won't be disappointed.

So today's lecture is not just a chance to learn a bit about her work-it's also a unique opportunity to reframe our outlooks on the ubiquitous impact of our work here at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a warm USPTO welcome for our distinguished guest, Ms. Claire Perry.