Remarks by Director Andrei Iancu at Invention-Con 2018

Remarks delivered at Invention-Con 2018

Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu

August 17, 2018

Alexandria, Virginia

As prepared for delivery

Thank you and good afternoon, everybody! Welcome to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It’s great to see all of you here, and I appreciate the opportunity to be with you at this year’s Invention-Con, where I know we have in attendance today inventors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and IP professionals.

Some of you fit into more than one—or perhaps all four—of those categories. Or, you may be completely new to this whole field and want to know how IP can help protect a business, innovation, or invention that is only the seed of an idea right now. Wherever you fall among those categories, we’re all very excited to have you here, and we hope that you’ll glean important and helpful insights from the program.

Throughout history, inventors and entrepreneurs have transformed our society and helped grow our economy through their ingenuity and dogged perseverance. And the USPTO has been there every step of the way.

I have mentioned in some prior remarks Dr. Eli Harari, an electrical engineer who always tinkered and invented things. He tells, for example, that he invented a new type of fishing rod, although he never fished.

“Imagine how much more successful you’d be,” his wife said, “if you’d invent in a field you knew something about.”

And so he did!

Dr. Harari is credited with inventing Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory, also known as EEPROM or “E-squared PROM.” This was in the 1970s, when Harari was working at a major corporation, where he was a star.  But a few years later, he wanted to be on his own, to invent, to perfect, to commercialize. 

In his late 30s, he was also married and had a child. So in the prime of his career, with a family at home, Harari left his comfortable life with major corporations. Seeding it in part with his own money, Harari started a company of his own. And he did not even draw a salary the first several months.

He risked everything: his career, his finances, and his family. That first company actually did not work out well, but a few years later, Harari risked it all again and co-founded a new company, which he ultimately called SanDisk. 

At SanDisk, Harari built upon his EEPROM technology, added critically important new inventions, and perfected flash memory data storage. And he obtained patents, including on how to turn memory chips into reliable systems.

Over time, Harari’s flash technology came to be used almost universally in devices like digital cameras and cell phones. And as a result, SanDisk bloomed from a three-person startup in Milpitas, California, to a company with $6.6 billion in revenue and 8,700 employees worldwide. Then, in 2016, Western Digital acquired SanDisk for $19 billion.

But think about it: Without patents, how could someone like Dr. Harari risk everything, put aside his secure career at an established company, and strike it on his own?

As Dr. Harari told me, “The only asset you have is your idea. If you have no way to protect your idea, you are at the mercy of the next bad guy. The U.S. patent system is genius, really the bedrock foundation of capitalism. 

"If you’re not protected,” he went on to say, “God help you!”

Indeed, the results of our patent system over time—so carefully crafted and balanced—have been remarkable.

Economists and other scholars have documented a number of important contributions from patents and other forms of intellectual property to innovation and economic growth. Our Chief Economist and his team—along with our colleagues at the Economics and Statistics Administration at the Department of Commerce—issued a report on U.S. IP-Intensive Industries, and some of the aggregate findings include:

• In 2014, IP-intensive industries directly and indirectly supported 45.5 million jobs, nearly one-third of all U.S. employment. 
• Between 2010 and 2014, the value added by IP-intensive industries increased substantially, both in total amount and as a share of GDP. 
• IP-intensive industries accounted for $6.6 trillion in value added in 2014, which is up more than $1.5 trillion (or 30 percent) from $5.06 trillion in 2010. 
• Accordingly, the share of total U.S. GDP attributable to IP-intensive industries increased from 34.8 percent in 2010 to 38.2 percent in 2014.
• Also, private wage and salary workers in IP-intensive industries continue to earn significantly more than those in non-IP-intensive industries. 
• In 2014, workers in IP-intensive industries earned an average weekly wage of $1,312, which is 46 percent higher than the $896 average weekly wages in non-IP-intensive industries in the private sector. 

Additionally, a paper by a former USPTO Edison Scholar presents causal evidence that patents help startups create jobs, grow their sales, and reward their investors. The results suggest that patents act as a catalyst to growth by facilitating their access to capital. The paper also found that approval of a startup’s first patent application increases its employment growth over the next 5 years by a remarkable 36 percentage points on average, and the effect on sales growth is even larger.

The benefits of a well-functioning, carefully balanced patent system are unmistakable. And through their patented inventions, innovators like Eli Harari and countless others like him have truly changed the world.

As I have mentioned before, President Eisenhower noted in his first inaugural address, “Love of liberty means the guarding of every resource that makes freedom possible—from the sanctity of our families and the wealth of our soil to the genius of our scientists.”

And I say, our scientists and inventors!

Protecting the fruits of the genius, imagination, creativity and determination of our nation’s scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs is what the USPTO does—and we are here to help you. Day-in and day-out, our patent examiners work with inventors like you to help you secure property rights for your ideas that lead to new products, employment opportunities, and a strong economy. 

After issuing patents for 228 years, you may have heard that the USPTO celebrated the issuance of patent 10 million this past June with a patent signing ceremony at the White House. It was an extraordinary accomplishment and an important milestone, not just for the USPTO, but for our entire country.

And as remarkable as the inventions that have brought us to patent 10 million have been—including light, flight, DNA synthesis, the modern internet, and countless others. I firmly believe that the next 10 million patents and beyond are likely to be even more remarkable. We stand on the cusp of a truly extraordinary future. Machine learning, unmanned vehicles, biotechnologythese are but a few examples, and we are just getting started. There is so much more. And there will be technologies that we can’t even begin to contemplate yet.

And through it all, as it has been since the founding of our nation, the USPTO will be at your side, working with all of you—our nation’s inventors—to ensure that our intellectual property system meets its full constitutional mandate “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.” 

We have a remarkable patent system, born from our Constitution and steeped in our history. It is a crown jewel, a gold standard. You, the inventors, are at the heart of it, making it all possible, and we at the USPTO remember that every day we walk through these doors.

Thank you for everything you do for our nation, and thank you again for being here at Invention-Con 2018.