Remarks by Deputy Director Derrick Brent at the 2023 National HBCU Week

Remarks as prepared

Derrick Brent Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO


2023 National HBCU Week Conference

Panel on "HBCUs: Harnessing Federal Funding and Programs that Support Entrepreneurship and Business Creation”

Monday, September 25, 2023


Successful colleges, universities, and institutions of all types that focus on technology transfer, almost by definition, are also powerhouses when it comes to intellectual property. We just saw this in the rankings released last month by the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) of its new list, “the Top 100 U.S. Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents.” By and large, the universities on the list are those that focus on research and development as well as tech transfer. Their reputations and the careers of their graduates depend on it.

According to NAI, an HBCU has not yet made this list. But there are eight minority serving institutions, or MSIs, that are on the list. These MSIs are across the nation. They include several universities in Texas. And, close to home, Virginia Commonwealth University also made the rankings.

Clearly, tech transfer matters to HBCUs and MSIs. Especially those that want to uplift the innovators of tomorrow. Intellectual property is the bridge between tech transfer and real-world achievement among HBCU students and graduates. Perhaps in future years, we’ll see HBCUs make the list and more MSIs join the rankings of the top universities in our country for patents. We know that IP is a key building block when it comes to starting successful businesses, and for entrepreneurs to commercialize their inventions.

HBCUs, MSIs, and other schools that focus on tech transfer will likely experience an increase in the number of patents that their students, faculty, and graduates apply for. And although applying for a patent is no guarantee you will receive one from my agency, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you have no chance of protecting your intellectual property if you don’t file with the USPTO. This is true also for trademarks, which help protect slogans, business names, brands, and service offerings from being copied. Patents are how you protect your invention or product from unauthorized use in similar products.

Applying to the agency to protect your intellectual property not only can protect your legal rights, it can also help you to become a successful entrepreneur and to expand your small or start-up business. We know this from years of research and studies, as well as anecdotal evidence that my USPTO colleagues and I hear around the country from people like you.

The available evidence all points to this: Your own intellectual property, and that of your HBCU, are valuable assets. When institutions and individuals get patents and trademarks, they may be more easily able to raise money from investors. This helps them to bring their products to market. Raising capital also helps small businesses and the people who founded them to expand: They can hire people, they can add physical locations, and they can further invest in research and design.

This is a virtuous cycle: The more IP you develop, the more successful you can be, the more you can contribute to the success of our entire economy. This in turn gives you more capital to further invest in your business or in expanding your creative idea. And the success of spinoffs from HBCUs often encourages alumni donations, further helping to support future innovators and entrepreneurs.

Patents and trademarks make possible this system of new businesses, and successful individuals. HBCUs that provide students with hands-on education in innovation; invention; science and technology; and entrepreneurship will be much healthier in the long run, as those students achieve success in their careers.

At the USPTO, we can help you or your colleagues apply to legally protect your intellectual property. We work with several HBCUs, including Howard University in Washington, D.C. We help with mentorship and other programs at HBCUs. We help to teach STEM skills. We help people get free legal counsel. We help first-time inventors get expedited USPTO review of some of their ideas.

You have to take the first step by contacting us at the USPTO. You can also go to the Founders Library at Howard University, either online or in person, to use the free services of our Patent and Trademark Research Center. Patent and Trademark Research Centers will help you access for free all of the USPTO resources.

I am confident that HBCUs will continue to train the STEM experts and innovators of tomorrow. About one-quarter of all Black graduates in STEM fields attended an HBCU. We at the USPTO are here to help you with intellectual property issues. You can play a bigger role in tech transfer – and with it the building up of assets, wealth, and business connections – by people from diverse backgrounds.

I look forward to hearing about your own story as an innovator and intellectual property creator.

You can reach out to me at