Remarks delivered at the Intellectual Property Owners (IPO) Education Foundation event "How IP Accelerates Innovation"
Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu
December 8, 2020
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Dave, for organizing this session, and thank you for your past service to our nation in the position that I now occupy, as Director of United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I am sure that it was as challenging and exciting a post for you as it is for me. There is never a dull moment! We are constantly striving to improve the U.S. system of protecting our nation’s most valuable asset: our intellectual property (IP).
To everyone involved in the Intellectual Property Owners (IPO) Education Foundation, thank you for all you do to promote both IP and the importance of the work we do at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Your IP Patch, Innovator Spotlight, IP Video Series, podcasts, and other programs are so important in today’s knowledge-based economy, where we need to activate a new generation of inventors and entrepreneurs. They complement many of our own programs, such as Camp Invention, the Inventor Card Series, and our Science of Innovation video series.
Your Inventor of the Year Award and ceremony is a fantastic venue for highlighting the people who make a major difference in the world. I look forward to the presentation of this year’s winner: Pat Brown of Impossible Foods. And I notice that the Foundation was way ahead of the Nobel Prize committee with your 2017 award to the inventors of CRISPR.
Congratulations, too, to Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, for his well-deserved recognition as Executive of the Year for his commitment to intellectual property. I am also thrilled to see that you are honoring Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley as this year’s Distinguished IP Professional. Judge O’Malley uniquely understands, and crisply explains time and again, the historical importance IP has had in the development and growth of this nation since its inception. The Foundation could not have found a better IP professional to honor.
Now, let me give you a quick update on the USPTO.
The pandemic has made it a tough year for everyone, but the USPTO has been operating without pause since we adopted 100% teleworking for our 13,000 employees in March. All of our operations continue to work smoothly in the virtual world, including all of our examinations and board hearings.
Despite the pandemic and the lockdowns, we did eke out a small increase this year in patent filings. And we set a new yearly record for trademark applications. We also reduced patent pendency this past year to 23.3 months, and we continue to see improvements there.
We are hiring new examiners, and our attrition rate is extremely low, an indication that our technology specialists love their jobs and are challenged by new developments in AI, biotech, quantum computing, nanotechnology, and the ever-increasing convergence between all the science and technology (S&T) disciplines.
We also created a new program to expedite COVID-19 related patents. If patents are approved into the program, we are endeavoring to reach final resolution within six months. Cures and treatments for this deadly disease are likely somewhere within the USPTO system.
We have also undertaken a major initiative with the creation of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI). Its mission is to develop a National Innovation Strategy aimed at increasing participation in the innovation economy.
Today, our innovation enterprise has a shortage of women and people from diverse backgrounds and geographic locations who are not close to any of the technology hubs. In a study we published earlier this year, we found that in 2019, only 13% of inventors named on U.S. patents were female. This is an improvement since our last report, which studied patents through 2016. But much more needs to be done, and at faster rates.
This is no idle exercise. IP-intensive industries pay an average salary that is 50% higher than other industries. And the approval of a startup’s first patent application increases its employment growth over the next five years by a remarkable 36% on average. A patent’s effect on sales growth is even larger.
Recent studies show that by harvesting the creative talent of all Americans, we could quadruple the number of inventors and increase the overall level of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita by up to 4.4%. This may not sound like a lot, but it amounts to about $1 trillion in GDP.
The shortage of people and lack of diversity in the innovation economy comes at a time when our major global competitors have targeted our lead in innovation. They are making substantial investments in education, science, technology, commercialization, standards, and IP protections.
We face an overall lack of knowledge and appreciation for intellectual property, its value, and the need to enforce protections for IP rights holders so that they can invest, invent, and commercialize new technologies. At every age—starting from kindergarten and continuing through college—we need a systemic and sustained IP educational effort to enlighten and inspire a new generation of inventors and entrepreneurs. We must broadly disseminate an understanding of why the nation’s founders placed the protection of IP in the U.S. Constitution.
STEM training is still a prerequisite to sustaining a competitive and growing economy, and we must do better and train more people in STEM subject areas. But innovation training and IP education are different, and they are in addition to STEM education.
To address this grand challenge, we need all hands on deck. You all are on the front lines of these efforts. I thank the Foundation for embracing this mission, and for doing so much to advance its goals. Thank you for inviting me to be on this program.
I look forward to hearing from Zorina and Irving, and to our conversation after their remarks.