Remarks by Director Iancu at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce event "How innovation and creativity drive American competitiveness"

Remarks delivered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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

January 19, 2021


As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Frank, for that incredibly generous introduction. Thank you also to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO), and the International Trademark Association (INTA) for co-hosting today’s event. We appreciate everything your organizations do to promote intellectual property (IP) rights here in the United States and around the world.

It is also an honor to appear with Senator Tillis. I also know that Senator Coons wanted to join, but hearings this afternoon prevented his attendance. I very much value both of their support of our efforts at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the IP ecosystem. In fact, one of the highlights of my tenure as Director has been working with both of them to improve the American IP system. Their continued devotion to our inventors will be instrumental to the continued success of this nation. By the way, congratulations to both of them for being re-elected to the U.S. Senate.

Next month—February—will mark precisely 40 years since my arrival in the United States. I came as a political refugee from Romania. At that time, Romania was in the throes of a repressive communist regime. Since my arrival in the United States, I believe I have truly lived the American dream. Coming here with absolutely nothing, and speaking virtually no English, my story would not have been possible anywhere else in the world. It is the story of America. My story is a testament to the true promise of this country, and the fundamental goodness and fairness of its people. 

The story of my love for technology began as a little kid growing up in the 1970s on the streets of Bucharest, Romania. I only wanted to play; I never wanted to eat; never had the patience, really. Nothing my parents could do would make me eat.

However, they eventually discovered a trick. When they took me to the airport, it turned out I’d be lost in the wonder of flight, watching as jetliners would land and take off. Standing in awe, gazing skyward with my mouth agape, they could feed me anything. 

My fascination with flight started there, at what was then the Bucharest Băneasa Airport. And it blossomed further when I came to the United States, attending UCLA and receiving a degree in aerospace engineering. After graduating, I worked at Hughes Aircraft Company designing satellites. Then I became fascinated by so many other amazing discoveries and inventions, big and small, that have fundamentally transformed the human condition.

And as much as I am fascinated by the wonders that humans create, I am equally enthralled by the humans who create them.
An aging Albert Einstein told one of his close friends, “People like you and me never grow old, [because we] never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we are born.” The same characteristic was observed about Alexander Graham Bell by one of his peers, who wrote that Bell “was like a little child to whom his little world was a wonderland, as it is possible for a great man with a great mind to be.”

For all of us in the innovation community, we must always maintain this childlike wonder, this never-ending curiosity, and the thrill for what humans can create. This is what all of us who work with inventors need to understand: that our IP system should inspire and encourage this thrill, this childlike wonder. And under no circumstances should anyone work to discourage it.

Nikola Tesla said, “The desire that guides me in all I do . . . is the desire to harness the forces of nature to the service of mankind.” What a perfect definition of invention. Tesla went on to say, “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” 

This drive to create something entirely new is what our IP system must assiduously protect and encourage. And as we consider our IP policies, we must never forget the powerful emotions that drive inventors to create, and to “forget food, sleep, friends, love, and everything.”

As I said in 2018—when we write, interpret, and administer patent laws, we must consistently ask ourselves: "Are we helping inventors?" “Are we incentivizing innovation?” 

And to that end, I have consistently said that balance is key. We have but one patent system. It must work for all.
Whether it’s a patent owner or a manufacturer needing to use a patent. We have but one system. 

Whether it’s an individual tinkering in her garage, or a team at a large corporation, or researchers in a laboratory on a university campus, we have but one patent system.

And whether it is biotech, high tech, or any other tech, we have but one patent system.

Our patent system must incentivize innovation for all. This is the orientation we have taken to everything we have done over the past three years. And this is the pro-innovation, balanced policy perspective that we should continue to take if we want to ensure America’s continued innovation leadership.

Almost three years ago, shortly after assuming my duties at the USPTO, I spoke here at a similar conference organized by the Chamber and GIPC. 

At the time, I said that we must reclaim our nation’s IP leadership and, to do so, we must focus on two high-level issues: first, creating a new, pro-innovation, pro-IP dialogue. And, second, balancing our systems and increasing the reliability of the patent grant.

This is precisely what we have done. 

We have a new dialogue in the United States, and frankly around the world: a dialogue focused on the brilliance of inventors, the excitement of invention, and the incredible benefits they bring to society. 

And we also very much increased reliability and predictability, restoring balance to the system.

Two years ago this month, for example, we issued new guidance to our examiners to address Section 101 of the patent code. Our Chief Economist at the USPTO confirmed in a study a few months ago that the uncertainty of examination in this area has decreased by a remarkable 44% since our new guidance.

We have also balanced post-grant proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). Among other things, we aligned our claim construction standard with district courts. And our new amendment process increases the likelihood of success two to three times. We have also drastically reduced repeated challenges. And we published standard operating procedures and revised the trial practice guide to make everything we do more transparent and predictable. 

In light of our many carefully-calibrated reforms, Senator Tillis recently said that the PTAB is no longer a death squad for patents. It is indeed a new day at the PTAB. 

Over the past three years, we did every single thing we promised to do—and so much more.

Let me mention some of the “more.” We have improved operations at the USPTO, fully upgrading, backing up, and securing our vast data repositories, our extremely complex information technology (IT), and telecommunications networks. And we created a brand new, modern website. 

We reduced patent examination pendency to 23.3 months on average, the lowest since 2001. We also reduced the average patent appeal time to 13 months, down from 30 months in 2015.

We also created the ground-breaking National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI). This entity is now fully operational, and is in the process of helping us develop a national strategy aimed at substantially broadening participation in the innovation economy demographically, geographically, and economically.

We also created new training programs for fledgling patent attorneys so they can gain confidence and experience in their advocacy.
And we worked with Congress. Thanks to the dedication of legislators like Senators Coons and Tillis, and many others, these have been amazing legislative years for Intellectual Property. 

For example, the USPTO now has fee setting authority through 2026; as well as a permanent extension for our successful telework programs. Aspects of our popular Patents for Humanity program are now codified and enhanced. And several major new copyright laws have been passed, such as the Music Modernization Act, the Felony Streaming Act, and the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. Plus, in recognition of the increased importance of IP on the international stage, the rank of some of our IP attachés has been elevated. 

And importantly, we now have a new Trademark Modernization Act signed into law just a few weeks ago. This is the most significant piece of trademark legislation in decades. The new law creates a critically important presumption of irreparable harm once infringement is found. The law also creates new opportunities to challenge bogus marks and help us declutter our register. And the law enables us to set different deadlines and, therefore, speed up the pace of examination even further.

The USPTO will be very busy in the next 12 months as we draft regulations to implement the new statute. And add to that the astounding 69% increase in trademark filings so far this fiscal year to date—and 2021 is surely shaping up to be one of the most consequential years for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

And, indeed, it will be one of the most consequential years for intellectual property in general. 

We have just witnessed the power and the positive impact of the IP system, with the development of multiple, unique vaccines for COVID-19—in record time. Some were done by small, innovative, entrepreneurial firms working with the largest pharmaceutical companies, and licensing their intellectual property to leverage each other’s strengths. And yet, this is precisely the time that voices around the world are arguing, with little or no evidence, that IP is somehow a barrier to innovation. Indeed, however, the contrary has proven to be true. There is more cooperation in this industry now than ever before, and IP has played a central role.

As we assess the important balance between protecting intellectual property and access to vital technologies, we must always insist on evidence-based policies. 

Vaccines and other pandemic-related technologies are not alone in the increased pace of innovation. We are truly at the dawn of a new American innovation renaissance across the board: artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, genetics, personalized medicine, 5G, quantum computing, and so much more.

As fast as the pace of innovation has been to date, we have seen nothing yet. 

In order to ensure America’s continued technology leadership, all of us—the Administration, Congress, the courts, and stakeholders—we must all work to ensure we support and protect this American innovation renaissance. 

To that end, a robust IP system is critically important. Where will each of us stand in the face of this American innovation renaissance? 

Will the courts, for example, address Section 101, and finally resolve this issue that has plagued our system for the past decade? If the courts cannot do it, then will Congress step in with legislation and finally liberate our country from this quandary? We know that this issue is solvable: we have shown a path forward at the USPTO. 

The most important technologies of the future are being impacted, including diagnostics, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, digital processing, and many more. We must resolve this issue, and we must resolve it now. If not, we risk our nation being left behind as others fortify their IP laws and race towards technological dominance in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Stakeholders must demand a change. So where will we each stand?

Just as every physical object and living creature requires constant maintenance and upkeep—lest entropy turn it to dust—there is always more to do to improve and fortify our IP system.

Should we develop, for example, a national innovation and IP policy aimed at maintaining our nation’s lead in creating and producing the technologies of the future?

Should we update our design patent laws that haven’t been meaningfully altered since 1952—to account for new technologies, such as holographic displays, and new product cycles? 

So where will each of us stand in the face of this American innovation renaissance?

We must certainly address our nation’s continued ability to develop standard-essential technologies. And we must assess potential implications of recent international decisions regarding standard-essential patents.

We must continue our engagement with foreign nations to ensure bilateral and multilateral cooperation on intellectual property issues. And we must put an end to state-sponsored theft of intellectual property, and their cavalier attitude toward the proliferation of fakes and counterfeits.

By the way, this is, in part, the reason that it was so important for us to create a broad coalition of partners to elect new, pro-innovation leadership at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2020. Given the forces that were at work, that alone was a singular accomplishment, and it will pay dividends for years to come.

So where will each of us stand? 

Will we, for example, continue a balanced approach to post-grant proceedings at the PTAB? 

And will we continue the work of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation? For the United States to maintain its leading edge, we need all hands on deck. Innovation should not belong to a select few. 

To the contrary, innovation can be the great equalizer, where anyone with the willingness to work hard and take risks can have the opportunity to make something new and potentially change the world.

Expanding participation in the innovation ecosystem is one of our nation’s best and most tangible opportunities for enhancing economic growth, and improving the quality of life for every American. Let’s make sure we do that.

For this to happen, though, we must all understand the greater role intellectual property plays in the innovation ecosystem. We must make the connection between reliable and predictable IP rights and more innovation, job creation, and overall economic growth.

A robust IP system opens up the economy, increases trade, and increases commerce, both domestically and internationally. It also enables the transfer of technology from lab to market. And a robust IP system allows new entrants to create brand new markets, or to penetrate and make a difference in established markets. 

These are fundamental principles that we must continuously explain and communicate. And these are the underpinnings of the American innovation renaissance. 

So where will each of us stand? Will we each work to advance this American innovation renaissance?

At the very minimum, we must certainly all work together to encourage the inventors of the future. We must show them remarkable role models and heroes they can look up to: Elijah J. McCoy and the Wright Brothers; Edison, Bell, and Tesla; Hedy Lamarr, Boyer, and Cohen; Temple Grandin, and Marian Croak.

These are the stories we must tell; these are the heroes we must promote. If we do our job right, I am confident that America’s future will be bright indeed. 

The most amazing people I met these past few years are actually the inventors of the future—starting with kindergarteners, five-year olds, making their first creations and excitedly explaining them to me. Jumping up and down, many would say, “Director, I want to be an inventor when I grow up!” Their unbridled enthusiasm assures me that America’s best days are yet to come. 

To the IP community, thank you for giving me the honor of serving as your USPTO Director. Thank you for your support, and thank you for everything you do for our cherished system.

To the employees of the USPTO, it has been an honor to serve with you. Thank you for your dedication and hard work on behalf of all of our constituents, and the public at large. The USPTO has a unique culture of excellence that is second to none. And it is all because of you. I will miss you.

One of my favorite books is "The Boys in the Boat," the true story of hard-working young men during the Depression who overcame all the odds to win Gold in the rowing competition at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. 

In order to succeed at the things that matter, their boat maker told them they had to give themselves up to it completely: “When you were done and walked away from the boat,” he said, “you had to feel that you had left a piece of yourself behind in it forever; a bit of your heart.” 

I’m leaving a bit of my heart here, at the USPTO, forever.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve this great country that I love. And God bless you all.