Remarks delivered at 2018 Military Invention Day
Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu
May 19, 2018
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Arthur [Daemmrich], for that kind introduction. I am honored to celebrate Military Invention Day with all of you. Gathered with us here today are inventors and innovators, veterans, service members, and civilians like me, whom they selflessly protect.
I’d like to begin by thanking all those in attendance today who are currently serving or have served, either in uniform or as a civilian, in a national defense role.
And it’s an honor to be sharing this section of today’s program with Director Daemmrich and Secretary Wilson. As the proud father of a newly-commissioned Air Force officer, I hold a newfound appreciation for events like this.
I’m also very proud of the fact that the agency I’m privileged to lead—the United States Patent and Trademark Office—has a robust Veteran Hiring Program. Each day I see these men and women bring to their work at the USPTO the same spirit of selfless service and love of country that led them to serve in uniform. Veteran or not, all of our employees understand the importance of innovative technologies, and we all have a strong interest in, first, making sure our nation continues to be a world leader in innovation, and, second, ensuring that our nation’s military continues to benefit from that competitive edge.
Our military has benefitted from innovation since the Revolutionary War. And in turn, our entire country has benefited from military invention. Indeed, when it comes to invention, there has always been a strong connection and interaction between our military and the civilian world.
Take, for example, an often overlooked hero of the American Revolution—Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Kosciuszko was not a politician, or, frankly, even a great combat leader. He was an engineer. Kosciuszko was 30 years old when he arrived in America from Poland in 1776, merely weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Eager to do his part for the cause of freedom, he immediately sought out Benjamin Franklin himself. He had no papers or references to prove his education in military or civil engineering—which he did indeed have—and Franklin had never heard of him. Still, he insisted to take the placement exam in engineering and military architecture for the Continental Army. I’m sure Franklin was somewhat amused by this request, as no such exam even existed!
But Kosciuszko did score very well on a geometry exam, and Franklin was impressed.
And so, with Franklin’s recommendation, John Hancock gave Kosciuszko a role in the Continental Army. In that role, he used his brilliant engineering skills to build a number of defenses that proved impenetrable to British troops.
In fact, it was Kosciuszko’s brilliant engineering of the defenses along the Hudson River that many historians believe led to a decisive Continental victory at the Battle of Saratoga, and a turning point in the War of Independence.
According to General Horatio Gates, who received much of the credit for that victory, “The great tacticians of the campaign were hills and forests, which a young Polish engineer was skillful enough to select for my encampment.”
Kosciuszko’s technical skills brought him close to many leaders of the American Revolution.
“General Kosciuszko, I see him often,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known, and of that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few or rich alone.”
Today, you can find a statue in Kosciuszko’s honor in Lafayette Park, just north of the White House.
After the war, our Founding Fathers recognized that the new nation they had brought forth, conceived in liberty, would require strong protections in order to survive and prosper. And so, among other powers, Article I, Section 8 of the American Constitution gave Congress the power to “raise and support armies,” and to “provide and maintain a navy.”
But our founders knew that protection could not come solely in the form of armies or ships. It also needed to include intellectual property protections. As a result, in the very same section of our Constitution, the founders empowered Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
The connection is unmistakable.
Innovation spurred on by our intellectual property system puts tools in the hands of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that helped them defeat our enemies in past conflicts, and it deters many of those who want to cause harm to us today. From the beginning of our nation, America’s inventors and innovators have been closely tied to our Constitution, and the courageous men and women who take an oath to defend it.
Brilliant American innovation has been at the center of this nation’s history. And American inventors have come from all walks of life—some quite unexpected.
For instance, some of you may know the name Hedy Lamarr. She was best known for her work during MGM’s Golden Age, when she starred in films such as Ziegfeld Girl, White Cargo, and Samson and Delilah.
What you may not know is that she, along with Hollywood composer George Antheil, were also behind an important military innovation.
Lamarr and Antheil developed a frequency hopping technique that reduced the risk of detection or jamming of radio controlled torpedoes. In August 1942, the pair received Patent No. 2,292,387; and they donated it to the U.S. Navy.
Their invention serves as a predecessor to many military communication technologies we rely on today, such as guided missiles.
In turn, those military technologies made their way back into the civilian world. In a big way: What Hedy Lamarr called “frequency hopping” sparked the idea for spread-spectrum technology, which went on to shape modern applications such as GPS and Bluetooth in headsets and phones.
The basics of the technology are still in use today, and some estimate that it is currently worth about $30 billion. Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2014 for this significant achievement. And Lamarr is featured on our latest Inventor Trading Card, which you can pick up at our table near SparkLab at any point today.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria is filled with similar stories. It’s not nearly as big as the National Museum of American History, mind you. But the National Inventors Hall of Fame is definitely worth a visit and I hope you’ll come to Alexandria sometime to see it.
Among the honors for America’s greatest inventors, it has several one-of-a-kind displays you won’t see anywhere else including an exhibit called “Visionary Veterans,” which highlights hall of fame inductees who served in our nation’s armed forces.
This year, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States in World War I, the exhibit is honoring inductees who served during “the Great War.” They include innovators like Frederick McKinley Jones, who developed mobile refrigeration technology to keep blood, food, and medications fresh; and Edwin Howard Armstrong, of the Army Signal Corps, who invented FM radio.
The list of military inventions that have become a pervasive part of everyday American life goes on and on.
And, behind each of these game-changing innovations was a U.S. patent and a strong patent system, rooted in our nation’s Constitution, a system that continues to protect and incentivize the kinds of inventions that made our military the best the world has ever known, or will see for a long time to come.
Thank you, and I hope you all enjoy the rest of today’s program!