Remarks by Director Andrei Iancu at the Ceremonial Swearing-In

Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and USPTO Director Andrei Iancu

Friday, February 23, 2018

10:00 a.m.

Madison Building Atrium

Andrei Iancu Ceremonial Swearing-In

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your very kind introduction, and thank you for administering the oath. Needless to say, this is a moment I will never forget. I’d also like to thank Drew and Mary and the entire leadership here at the USPTO. Most importantly, thank you, Secretary Ross, for your support of the USPTO, innovation, and intellectual property. Your presence here today, and Acting Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley’s visit yesterday, mean so much to me and to the almost-13,000 employees of this amazing agency.

We know that innovation and the protection of American intellectual property are critical components of your goals and of the president’s agenda, and we look forward to working together to strengthen our systems in order to create jobs and grow our economy. We also look forward to working together with our colleagues at the Department of Commerce on the administration’s infrastructure agenda.

It is so good, in fact, to see so many colleagues from Commerce here today. I am excited about all the great things we will do together. A huge thank you, too, to my friends and family, for your unwavering support, and for coming here, mostly from California, but also from Michigan, New York, and elsewhere. The line between friends and family in this group is, in fact, quite blurry.

I also want to acknowledge two special guests: one of my predecessors, the Honorable Q. Todd Dickinson, former Under Secretary and Director of the PTO, and a dear friend. Thank you for your guidance, Todd. And another predecessor, the Honorable Gerald Mossinghoff, Commissioner of the PTO.

At my confirmation hearing last November, I spoke about the exceptionalism of American intellectual property and American inventors, such as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, who have fueled the imagination and creativity of our people for generations. I noted at the time that it is no accident that our nation’s incredible achievements in innovation have come within the context of the American Constitution that uniquely recognizes the protections and incentives needed to promote human progress. And when it comes to innovation, it is this agency, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, that administers this Constitutional mandate.

On the wall outside my office upstairs hangs a portrait of William Thornton. Some will recognize Mr. Thornton as the principal architect of the U.S. Capitol building. For the bulk of his career, though, Thornton was the superintendent of the Patent Office. He was appointed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 and served for a quarter century until his passing in 1828.  A story is told about Mr. Thornton that symbolizes the role this agency plays in American history and the annals of human development. During the War of 1812, British soldiers marched through Washington and burned virtually all government buildings. Most government officials that day were being evacuated from the district and out of harm’s way. Thornton, however, got on his horse and rode as fast as he could through the raging fires and into the district, from his house in Georgetown to the Patent Office, which at that time was at Blodgett’s Hotel at 8th and E Streets in D.C. Thornton stood in front of the building and pleaded with the British officers to spare the Patent Office and its contents. Arguing that the office contained the record of human development that benefited not only America, but the entire world, Thornton cautioned the officers that if they destroyed the office, history would remember them as destroyers of civilization, just like those who burned the Library of Alexandria in antiquity. Mr. Thornton was persuasive, and the Patent Office was spared. It was the only major government building spared. And, indeed, this agency was worth sparing. 

For through these doors comes our future. Through our examiners’ hands will pass the cure to cancer. Before their eyes will come compounds that alleviate thirst and hunger. They will touch machines that transport humans to other planets, and they will handle processes that enable devices to think and create on their own. Through these doors will come science and technology that we cannot even contemplate today. And through these buildings walk entrepreneurs and business owners with brands that enable them to stand apart and grow their companies and, in turn, our economy. Over the past quarter-century working as an engineer and then as an intellectual property lawyer, I have seen first-hand the life-changing, history-altering impact invention and intellectual property can have.

Some of the greatest leaps humanity has made have been fueled by our greatest inventors. A scientific publication written in 1878 said that Thomas Edison “with his marvelous inventions, is pushing the whole world ahead in its march to the highest civilization.” That is what the people who come before this agency do: they come here with their creations that help us march to the highest civilization. And in turn, we help them protect that which they created. As we do this important work, we must endeavor to provide reliable, predictable, and high-quality IP rights that give owners and the public alike confidence in those rights. This is the American intellectual property system as enshrined by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. Working with those who come before this agency, we must foster a culture of innovation that promotes the progress of science and useful arts, spurs investment, creates new jobs, grows our economy, and helps us achieve our highest ideals.

I am honored to serve the people of this country as part of this most remarkable agency, which holds the greatest collection of intellectual property knowledge and experience anywhere in the world. To the employees at the USPTO: Thank you for your dedication and hard work and everything that you do for American intellectual property. I look forward to learning from you, and working together as part of our culture of excellence that serves the interests of all of our constituents and the public at large. And to all of you here today: Thank you for being here. It means a lot to me.