Remarks by Director Iancu at the Inaugural Meeting of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation

Inaugural Meeting of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation

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

September 14, 2020


As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Laura, for the kind introduction and for your leadership at the USPTO. Thank you in particular for your partnership and contributions to these important issues.

A warm welcome to everyone here today, and especially our distinguished Council members. You are the leaders, companies, and organizations who have stepped up to meet one of the greatest challenges of our time. The importance of the work before us today cannot be overstated.

Since the founding of this great nation, innovation has been the driving force of our economy and our most defining trait as a people. It is no coincidence that the only time the word “right” is mentioned in the Constitution, before the amendments that came later, is with respect to intellectual property rights. This concept was that important to our Founders.

More than two and a quarter centuries later, however, innovation in the United States is overly concentrated: demographically, economically, and geographically. For example, women account for more than half of our national workforce but only about 13% of inventors named on U.S. patents. For the United States to maintain its edge in an increasingly competitive global economy, this must change.

Recent studies show that by harnessing the creative talent of all Americans, we could quadruple the number of inventors and increase the overall level of U.S. GDP per capita by up to 4.4%. 

Not only does such participation benefit the United States economy, but also the participating individuals themselves, who benefit from accelerating personal growth and career advancement. For example, workers in IP-intensive industries make an average salary that is almost 50% higher than in other industries. Needless to say, innovation and intellectual property benefits companies too. For example, approval of a startup’s first patent application increases its employment growth over the next five years by a remarkable 36% on average; and a patent’s effect on sales growth is even larger.

In short, expanding participation in the innovation ecosystem is one of our nation’s best and most tangible opportunities for enhancing economic growth and improving the standard of living and quality of life for every American. So I say, let’s go do that! But how?

We, as a nation, need a strategy.

We need a national strategy for how we will encourage and equip Americans across all demographics to become inventors and entrepreneurs, and we need a national strategy for how we can ensure their equal opportunity to succeed.

We need a national strategy to inspire more young boys and girls to say, “I want to be like Lonnie Johnson when I grow up.” Lonnie is one of the most prolific African American inventors alive today with more than 100 U.S. patents. And we are honored that Lonnie is a member of this Council.

And we need a national strategy to inspire more young girls and boys to say, “I want to be like Kathryn Guarini when I grow up.” Kathryn is an IBM executive and prolific inventor with more than 65 patents. And Kathryn, too, is a member of this Council. Thank you both for providing us with your expertise and for your service to this effort.

We need all members of the Council to help us craft a national strategy that includes STEM and innovation education at all levels—from kindergarten to graduate school. And we need members to help us craft a national strategy that emphasizes employment development, access to capital, and product commercialization.

Our plan should identify specifically where along a potential inventor’s path we come up short and specifically how we can address it. And our plan should also include metrics against which results can be measured over time. An example is the USPTO’s new “Progress and Potential” Report, which updates the number of women inventors in the United States and breaks the metrics down by company, state, and more.

The main point is this: Mere rhetoric will no longer suffice. To move the needle, we must act with specificity, and we must insist on measurable results.

For our part, the USPTO is here to support programs and policies that foster inclusivity. We conduct workshops for women entrepreneurs, and outreach events with students to spark their inventive genius. We share stories of trailblazing inventors from minority communities who have changed the dynamics of existing industries and created entirely new ones. We recently launched an online “Expanding Innovation” hub to help individuals and organizations remove barriers to invention and demystify the patent application process for new inventors. And we support countless innovation education programs, such as Camp Invention, where almost 150,000 students each summer, almost half girls, learn how to be inventors.

But we are just one small piece of the much larger puzzle. Which is why we launched a long-term effort and created this Council to help construct a comprehensive national strategy. We must realize that the work done here today is just the beginning, and we must be committed to seeing this effort through to its completion. Most importantly, we must all be in this together: industry, academia, and government.

History will remember this first Council meeting as a seminal event; a turning point. The work we begin here today, with the help of this distinguished group of leaders from the private and public sectors, will make a difference — for our economy, our quality of life, and, most importantly, for all Americans.

I look forward to hearing directly from you, our Council members, and to learn from you. Thank you again for being here, and for everything you do.

To start us off, I have the great honor to introduce Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Secretary Ross knows what it takes to create a thriving business enterprise. He knows that innovation and intellectual property are essential to the initial viability and long-term success of any company and any industry. As Commerce Secretary, he has aggressively represented the interests of American inventors, American entrepreneurs, and American industries as they fight to remain globally competitive. It is my honor to work with him, and to introduce him to you now.