Remarks by Director Iancu at the Bridging Innovation and Opportunity event

Remarks delivered at the Bridging Innovation and Opportunity event

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

August 26, 2019

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

As prepared for delivery

Good afternoon everyone, and thank you Mark Anthony Thomas for that gracious introduction. Thank you also Jason Wolfe and his team here at the Pittsburgh Technology Council for hosting us, to the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, and Frank Cullen and the Global Innovation Policy Center for co-sponsoring today’s event. It’s great to be here in the “City of Bridges.” I’m honored to be among such an extraordinary gathering of public and private sector leaders, and distinguished speakers, including the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Karen Dunn Kelley.

Over the course of the last several decades, Pittsburgh has transformed into a research leader in many technologies of the future, including software engineering, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, manufacturing, energy, and autonomous transportation. Indeed, Pittsburgh, whose iron and steel industries were once so critical to our national economy, is today one of the world’s top cities for research on the technologies of the next industrial revolution.

According to 2014 statistics from the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, the number of Pittsburgh-area private-sector jobs in the scientific and research and development (R&D) sectors, excluding academic positions, for the first time exceeded those in iron and steel mills, which for decades were the lifeblood of this the economy. Further, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, over $1 billion is expended annually in university-based research and development in Pittsburgh.

All told, 2018 marked the biggest year for local research funding in the past decade. And all this investment and effort has been paying off. Pittsburgh’s startup scene is growing, as evidenced by the increasing number of occupants on “Robotics Row” along the Allegheny River. You have gone from a city of bridges to a ‘burgh of bots. Over the past decade, 450 unique Pittsburgh companies attracted a total of $3.5 billion in investment, and venture activity per annum increased significantly from approximately $300 million in 2013 to $685 million in 2017.

And yet, as remarkable as this recent growth has been, it is not surprising. Pittsburgh has long been a leader in innovation. Indeed, Pittsburgh is the home of many transformational inventors, including—John Deere, inventor of the Self-Scouring Steel Plow; Stephanie Kwolek, who invented Kevlar, the technology used in body armor protecting countless lives; and Dr. Frances Arnold, who is the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and has more than 40 patents. All of these inventors—and many more—have been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), which has total of 18 living and historical inductees from the Pittsburgh area.

Take, for example, the great American engineer, entrepreneur and innovator George Westinghouse, Pittsburgh’s preeminent industrial figure. Born in a small village near Schenectady New York in 1846, Westinghouse spent his early years working for 50 cents an hour in his father's shops, where agricultural machinery was manufactured. Following a three-month stint in college, Westinghouse dropped out in 1865 after obtaining his first patent for a rotary steam engine. Just four years later, he obtained patent No. 88,929 for the air brake, which enabled trains for the very first time to be stopped by the locomotive engineer with fail-safe accuracy.

After the success of that first brake patent, Westinghouse moved to Pittsburgh, where he leveraged the city’s affordable steel and engineering talent and founded, in 1869, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, and later the Union Switch and Signal Company. But it was Westinghouse’s experimentation with electricity that helped to solve another industrial challenge and led him, in 1886, to form the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in Monroeville, about 10 miles east of here.

Upon obtaining exclusive rights to Nikola Tesla's patents for a poly-phase system of alternating current (AC) in 1888 and dazzling visitors at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Westinghouse literally changed the course of history by making possible the system we still use to electrify the country and the entire world. At the time of his death in 1914, Westinghouse had 361 patented inventions to his name and had founded 60 companies around the world, including two Fortune 500 companies.

And how many people know about Charles Martin Hall? His name may not sound familiar to most people, but his Pittsburgh-based company, known as “Alcoa,” probably does. Working with his sister Julia in a shed attached to the family home, Hall discovered in 1866 a way to produce aluminum through electrolysis that drastically reduced its cost. He received U.S. patent 400,664 for his “Process of reducing aluminum from its fluoride salts by electrolysis.”

He then moved to Pittsburgh, via New York, and on Thanksgiving Day in 1888, on Smallman Street (just across the river), Charles Martin Hall opened the company that ultimately became Alcoa. Today, Hall’s patented process is the one method by which every aluminum producer in the world operates and the company that Hall co-founded is now worth about $5 billion.

Further, Alcoa is one of the nation’s leading industrial companies, with more than 14,000 employees and operations in over 10 countries. It has also launched a number of R&D Centers. The largest, the Alcoa Technical Center, is located nearby at Alcoa Center, and continues as an extensive intellectual and physical resource for innovation. Today, the firm is a global leader in manufacturing, mining, innovation, and recycling. All of this activity originated with breakthrough innovation and a patent that was issued more than 130 years ago.

Innovation, and dramatic economic success based on innovation, are clearly nothing new to Pittsburgh. But for the city to continue its growth in the modern world, an innovation ecosystem needed to develop through a combination of private industry, academia, and government—and it has.

Pittsburgh is indeed capitalizing on this combination. Civic and industry leaders in Pittsburgh recognize that strong innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment are vital to this city’s economic future. That’s why they’re all working together to build and sustain the vibrant and flourishing innovation ecosystem that exists in the city’s Oakland neighborhood, which is anchored by the intertwining campuses of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

The University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute, for example, was established in 2013 and provides a comprehensive suite of services for Pitt Innovators, from protecting their IP to the commercialization of new discoveries through licensing and/or new enterprise development. Further, through its work leading the City of Pittsburgh’s 27 Opportunity Zones, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) is creating jobs, expanding the city’s tax base, and improving the vitality of the city’s businesses and neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based Innovation Works is working to introduce, connect, support, and expand the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem within southwestern Pennsylvania, making this region a center for innovative startups and tech investors from around the country. This is evidenced by the 716 companies on AngelList, with an average valuation of $4.3 million, as well as the growing number of startups in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, 39 artificial intelligence startups call Pittsburgh home! Larger companies like Amazon, Apple, Uber and Facebook have also recently made great investments in the Pittsburgh region. 

This collaboration between industry, academia, and government will continue to be key to the growth and economic development of this region. Indeed, these three components—industry, academia, and government—are critical to the development of any innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. They are the three necessary components, and they must work together toward their common goals.

But frankly, more is needed still.

In order to truly advance innovation here in Pittsburgh and throughout the country, we must work to broaden the innovation ecosphere. Put differently, we need a higher percentage of our population to participate. And to that end, we need to focus on STEM and IP education, externships and hands-on industry opportunities. We must also identify appropriate role models for young people to excite them to look to futures in science, engineering and tech. The USPTO plays a leading role in this regard.

Earlier this year in Pittsburgh, for example, the USPTO conducted a professional development workshop at CMU in collaboration with the Leonard Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach. During the workshop, 40 elementary, middle school, and high school teachers learned about several CMU inventors, including Dr. Adam Feinberg, whose team introduced participants to 3D bioprinting.

Additionally, the USPTO has begun conversations with both CMU and the University of Pittsburgh about the possibility of hosting the National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI) in either 2020 or 2021. The central focus of the Institute is on the creation and protection of IP, including inventions, knowledge discovery, creative ideas, and expressions of the human mind that may have commercial value and are protectable under patent, trademark, copyright, or trade secret laws. By combining experiential training tools, practices, and project-based learning models to support elementary, middle, and high school teachers, IP at the institute is modeled as both a teaching and learning platform to help inspire and motivate student achievement in STEM disciplines, computer science, and other fields of study such as innovation and entrepreneurship.

At our most recent institute in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this month, keynote speaker Rory Cooper announced that, through an inter-institutional agreement, the USPTO will have an opportunity to extend its IP-STEM programs to teachers and students enrolled in various research programs at the University of Pittsburgh, CMU, and Duquesne University. It is critically important that we support educational programs like these, and many others, in order to increase participation in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Why is this so important? Take, for example, women inventors.

Women constitute about half of the population of the United States, and about half of all American jobs. Yet, their participation in STEM jobs and the IP system lags far behind their male counterparts. In the United States, less than 25% of the STEM workforce comprises women. The participation of women as inventors named on U.S. patents is even lower. Indeed, according to a USPTO study released earlier this year, women inventors comprised only 12% of all inventors on patents granted in 2016. By the way, Pennsylvania is right at the national average, with about a 12% women inventor rate.

Other national studies show similar trends for racial minorities and those from economically challenged areas. So, we must do better. On the other hand, as disappointing as these numbers are, they point to significant potential. A recent Harvard study found that increasing invention rates among women, minorities, and children from low-income families can up to quadruple the rate of U.S. innovation.
The USPTO, for its part, targets education and outreach to engage more women and other underrepresented communities in STEM and IP.

And we must start early. We should not forget that the wonder of discovery and the thirst for innovation begins at a young age, and it should be encouraged and developed before it is too late. That’s why the USPTO collaborates with a variety of organizations in novel outreach programs. 

For example, we partner with the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), which offers unique STEM and invention education programs to over 160,000 students annually. Participants range in age from preschool to high school, all across the nation, including here in Pennsylvania. More than 50,000 underserved students nationwide receive scholarships to attend NIHF’s invention education programs. More than 40% of NIHF’s Camp Invention participants are girls. Further, we hosted over 200 students at USPTO headquarters earlier this year for a “Girl-Powered Invention and Entrepreneurship Day.” 

And we held a two-day Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium (WES) to connect women entrepreneurs, and all others interested, with education, information, and resources to help start, build, and grow a business using their IP. These symposiums are held in cities across the nation and feature successful women inventors and entrepreneurs.

We’ve also been engaged with other Department of Commerce bureaus and U.S. government agencies, including the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Treasury, regarding possible data sharing or analysis relevant to the number of, and benefits from, patents applied for and obtained by women, minorities, and veterans. 

Bottom line is this: we must all work together to broaden the innovation ecosystem, and to ensure there are no “lost Westinghouses” or “lost Kwoleks”—men and women whose discoveries and whose creations of the mind could radically transform our world for the better.

So, this is a new day for American innovation. In today’s highly competitive global economy, it’s increasingly important to ensure that all Americans who are willing to work hard, persevere and take risks have the opportunity to innovate, start new companies, succeed in established companies, and ultimately achieve the American dream. In other words, we need all hands on deck.

Let me leave you with the story of one more inventor. As you can tell, by the way, I speak a lot about inventors, because inventors are the engine of America’s growth and development. They are our heroes. The more we can learn from successful inventors, the more innovation we can support.

So take, for example, local inspiration Al Langer, who’s here in the audience now, and from whom you’ll be hearing later today. A Pittsburgh-born biomedical engineer who is best known as one of the co-inventors of the Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), Al invented a patented device that is implanted in the human body and automatically corrects potentially fatal irregular heartbeat patterns called arrhythmias.

After studying electrical engineering at MIT and completing his Ph.D thesis at CMU, Al became, in 1972, the chief biomedical engineer at MedRad Inc. and started work on the ICD project. In 1980, Al oversaw the final testing and implantation of the device into a human patient and on May 4, 1984, he received U.S. patent number 4,202,340. Al’s invention went on to revolutionize the way doctors treat heart patients, and has saved thousands of lives. Several years later, Al founded Cardiac Telecom Corporation in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a town not far from here.

In 2002, Al was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF). 

Just last month, I had the great privilege of joining Al in visiting a Camp Invention in Hyattsville, Maryland. What a pleasure it was to meet and speak with students—little ones, in elementary school—and see how engaged they were when presented with scientific and technical challenges. These little kids saw in Al a true, living super hero, and lined up for his autograph. That is what it’s all about. It’s all about them. These future inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs will play a crucial role in helping the U.S. compete and succeed in the global economy. 

This is so important, particularly because of what we know is coming down the pipe. For as glorious as our past has been, I believe our future will be even brighter. We stand today on the cusp of truly remarkable technological and scientific advancements, including AI, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, biotechnology, and so much more. 

Plus, many of these will converge, and the boundaries will blur among the technologies. Biotechnology innovation, for example, is increasingly dependent on computational sciences. Transportation innovation is increasingly dependent on artificial intelligence. 

And in order to maintain our competitive edge in these and other areas, as a nation, we must harness the intellect and energy of as many Americans as possible. We must focus on the next generation of inventors to ensure they have the skills and the tools they will need to secure America’s technological edge.

It is a new day for American innovation, and Pittsburgh is leading the way. Indeed, all of the signs—including your patent filings, R&D growth, academic institutions, collaborative programs—show that Pittsburgh is well positioned to create the technology leaders of today and the future! We are here to support you, and to help in any which way we can to ensure your success.

Thank you for the honor to be with you here today.