USPTO Chief of Staff Vikrum Aiyer
April 28, 2016
FIRST LEGO League World Festival, St. Louis, MO
“The Currency of Genius”
266 days. That’s how many days President Obama has left in office. And as a result, that's how many days I have a job for to serve the American people as Chief of Staff of the office which protects a lot of the technologies on display this week. Why count the time until we have a new president? Some might say that number sums up the window of time I have to affect change, shape laws, or have access to power. But the steps my colleagues take day in and day out to help entrepreneurs protect their ideas and enable companies to grow, those steps span a lifetime.
So again why fixate on the number? All of us end up focusing on currency. What buys us time? What gets us a trophy at a tournament? Or what gets us power? What makes us famous? Or what pays the bills? It's human nature. But if you take a look at what's on display in St Louis this week, and in the very halls of the America's Center, we are witnessing a radical shift in paradigm of the currency which matters most. The resources we crave and rely on are shifting. It’s not oil, gas, or coal; or Bitcoin or Wi-Fi or Snapchat. It’s the genius of the people. It's not large, it's small. What once inspired AWE for being epic in size – super computers, space shuttles, or phones – are now being revered for being small. Apps in the cloud that use the computing power on computers that fit in our pocket, drones that fly to our doorsteps, 3D printers that sit on our desks. All of that is being powered by the genius of ideas, algorithms, robotic, and engineering solutions. And the focus isn't just on the currency of how much money these ideas can generate, but rather what solutions can they offer to the pressing challenges of our time, and the prospects of growth and opportunity these solutions can bring to communities around the world.
This shift in paradigm is powered by the genius on display right here: 20,000 students, 900 teams, 39 countries and 40,000 volunteers. Now all of you are going to hear the importance of the STEM fields this week, that we should embrace our inner nerd, but you’ve heard that before. Instead, we’re going to outline how this shift in paradigm to the currency of genius has the ability to influence people and the world in game changing ways.
The very technologies, creativity, and inventions you’re bringing to bear at this competition have the power to not only re-imagine the way we interact with the world, but they can now be digitally transmitted, shared, tweeted, and liked across the world. That means an invention showcased right here in Saint Louis or a new product that is unleashed in Saint Petersburg or São Paolo can spark curiosity among those we’ve never met in countries we've never been to, and empower someone of any age or background to build on those ideas and unleash even newer innovations. That’s the power of IP, which my team protects day in and day out at the USPTO. Through patenting your breakthrough thinking and trademarking your brands, we are sharing a step forward in the currency of genius: A new way to use drones to deliver medical supplies in an underserved community, 3D printers that give a wounded soldier new hope with a prosthetic arm, robotics that reinvent the way circuits are packaged on electronics.
For all of these breakthroughs, when protected with IP, we share with the world how we tackled a problem, how we flexed our creative muscles, and how this currency of genius confronted challenge with opportunity. That allows us to build on one another to interdependently look at what one team did, and to inspire what another team can do next. And that's critical to keep in mind because everything you have accomplished as a school, as a community, as individuals who build things with their own two hands – all of it is a keen reminder that our nation was built on the backs of pioneers like you. Pioneers willing to challenge traditions. Pioneers willing to push the boundaries of popular convention, and willing to test the limits in an unfamiliar environment. That's why we're working with President Obama to make it easier to patent, trademark and protect your ideas.
Because when we innovate and invent, we stand on the shoulders of one another, and the innovation that grows on innovation builds an ethos of mutual support. One in which we aren't just competing with one another but where we're building with one another. And interwoven in that effort is a bridge between communities, a bridge between technologies, and a bridge between what is and what can be. Confidence, curiosity, a desire to master core subjects in school and create things, that's what allowed the greatest innovators the world has known to cure diseases and connect a country, and to light up the night sky and communicate with depths of the world we hadn't even seen with our eyes.
The currency of genius is also changing the face of what the world looks like. Now more than ever, harnessing your mastery of science and technology also means you can be an entrepreneur who builds the next great company before you even have your first job. It can disrupt the sense of what you need to look like, or what age you need to be, or what pedigree or qualifications you need to have. The currency of genius means the robotics expert, the coder, the experimenter, doesn't need to wait to be hired to build a product to fuel economic growth and create jobs. They don’t need to be a certain color or ethnicity. The currency of genius means that old paradigms of going to a specific school and speaking a particular language is not the only way to get ahead, because these ideas of genius, they are the great equalizer. That's why your work and what you’re showcasing at this championship matters so much. They show that not only will invention and experimentation navigate us through the toughest roads ahead, but they will also create a new paradigm of what it looks like to innovate and succeed.
Black, brown, white, yellow, gay, straight, disabled or not, those are the modern faces of genius changing the world. So keep doing what you're doing. Keep experimenting. Remain curious. Because to the young women who don't see enough female presidents or woman scientists or business executives, keep doing what you're doing because we need more of you. And the bravery each of you shows by being here, taking a risk on an idea, that same currency of genius that enables innovation to breed interdependency, will also breed tolerance as the world sees things through your unique point of view.
But shaping the world through technology doesn’t mean we can be technologists in a vacuum. It might seem odd to have someone who works in government and politics speak at a tournament like this. But the work you’re doing here is more than robotics. It means that if you have a breakthrough idea, we all have an obligation to make sure someone who comes after you has the opportunity to also experiment in a new way, mentor in your community, bring your technical skills to the government, and help solve big problems. Don’t just think that if you’re a tech guy you have to go to Silicon Valley, and if you’re a History or English person you can only succeed in a place like D.C. The bridge is vital to ensure the right laws and policies are giving research dollars to robotics funding after school programs and creating a fair and balanced patent system addressing issues of data and privacy. We need you to do that. If you can change the way the world looks at robotics through events like this, you can alter the way the White House or the United Nations think about the laws that spark science. And it can position you to be more than you or your friends ever imagined a robotics expert or a scientist was supposed to be.
Whether it’s service in the policies that birth new industries or understand the business, the communications, or the education needed, there is a virtuous cycle of innovation, and at each step of the way we need your minds, and the bridges between your genius, to tap into the minds that cover different corners of the lifecycle. That’s how we build an ecosystem fit for the future. And that’s how your currency of genius changes the world.