Congressional IP Caucus GIPC Event
Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee
April 29, 2015
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2226, Washington, D.C.
Thank you, Mark, for that kind introduction. It’s really a pleasure to be here this morning. It’s also great to be reunited with Danny Marti. I had the pleasure of sharing a witness table with him not just once, but twice, during our Senate confirmation process. And congratulations, Danny, on being sworn in to your new position by Vice President Biden! I look forward to us working together to do great things.
I’d like to thank the Congressional Caucus on Intellectual Property and Piracy Protection for having me here today. I’m always appreciative when members of Congress share my commitment to promoting intellectual property. We all know the critical role it plays in driving innovation and economic growth. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights provide essential ownership rights to inventors, entrepreneurs, and artistic creators.
Protecting these rights promotes commerce by:
- providing incentives to invent and create;
- protecting innovators from unauthorized copying;
- and creating a platform for financial investment in innovation.
Some of you may be familiar with a Department of Commerce report that found IP-intensive industries support more than 40 million jobs. They contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product. That’s about one third of our total GDP. I’m honored to lead an agency that plays a key role in our IP economy. In fact, we’ve been serving America’s innovators since the Patent Act of 1790. I’ll spare you the math; that’s 225 years. And on a personal note, I’m also honored to be the first permanent female Director in the agency’s long history.
We know that the work that we do at the USPTO is more important than ever. And that’s why we appreciate that, thanks to the 2011 America Invents Act, Congress took steps to allow us full access to our fee collections. That’s a big help. Those fees help us continue to reduce patent pendency and the backlog of unexamined patent applications. We’re doing that while maintaining—in fact, improving—the quality of our patent examination and of issued patents.
Our focus on the highest level of quality is why we recently launched a new Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. As a sign of how important this initiative is, we created a new Deputy Commissioner position, whose job it is to focus on nothing but quality. To advance this initiative, we’ve actively engaged with the American public. We recently hosted a two-day Quality Summit, which included extensive dialogue among stakeholders, agency officials, and examiners. And we’re seeking further public input through a request for comments. We’ll carefully evaluate that input and follow up with actions we can take administratively. We may even recommend legislative changes.
Speaking of legislation, we are pleased that Congress is actively pursuing legislative efforts to curtail abusive patent infringement litigation practices. Abusive tactics have no place in our patent system. They serve to divert resources away from the research, development and innovation that fuel our nation’s economic growth. And they can be particularly harmful to start ups and small businesses who lack the resources and expertise to properly defend themselves. We recently shared our thoughts on pending House legislation at a Judiciary Committee hearing. I invite you to read my testimony, which you can find at USPTO.gov. The bottom line is that legislation to curtail abusive patent litigation and bad faith threats of litigation is both necessary and appropriate. There have been some positive recent developments, from court decisions to resulting benefits from the USPTO’s implementation of the America Invents Act. But more can be done legislatively. We are actively working with Congress to advance balanced legislation that targets objectionable behavior while maintaining a patent owner’s right to enforce his or her patent.
I’m also pleased that Congress is undertaking a review of copyright law. As the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, I advise the president on all IP issues, including copyrights. I’m supported at the USPTO by a sharp team of copyright law and policy experts. The USPTO is partnered in the Internet Policy Task Force with our Commerce Department colleagues at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Last year we issued a green paper titled “Copyright Policy, Creativity and Innovation in the Digital Economy. “ The green paper is the most thorough and comprehensive government analysis of digital copyright policy since the Clinton administration. We then conducted roundtables around the country to solicit further public input on important copyright policy issues discussed in the green paper, including:
- the legal treatment of remixes;
- the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital age; and
- the appropriate calibration of statutory damages in the context of individual file sharers and of mass online services.
We are now working to absorb and evaluate all of this valuable input. Stay tuned for a new report containing recommendations for administrative actions, as well as possible legislative actions.
We know there are many challenges that today’s innovators and creators face. IP is a critical tool for them to achieve results that benefit all of us. Consider the case of a young inventor I had the privilege of meeting recently. She invented a hand-held device that uses a micro-needle to take a very small sample of blood, run a chemistry lab in its cartridge, and transmit the findings to patients and doctors. Her device provides critical health data faster at less cost, and using less blood–just a drop, instead of multiple vials. Based on her invention, which she has since patented, this inventor raised $400 million in venture capital, and now has a company valued at $9 billion. That kind of success story is a win-win for everyone: the inventor, the patients who use the device, the employees hired by the company, and our economy and society in general.
Thank you having me here this morning and for all that you do to support American innovation.
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