Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at Grand Opening of American Innovation Exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Thank you, John. On behalf of everyone at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, I’m very pleased to be participating in the preview of this inspiring exhibition.

Today marks the latest manifestation of our ongoing collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. We share a mission of celebrating American innovation, including the vital component of intellectual property. This importance is clearly visible in “Inventing in America,” the gateway to the Innovation Wing here at the National Museum of American History  that will formally open this morning. 

Patents, trademarks, and IP protections provide the foundation for all that is celebrated in the gateway. We were pleased to play an active role in populating this exhibition with patent models and other contributions. It’s a reminder that one of the most popular Washington attractions in the 19th century was the exhibition of patent models on display in the old U.S. Patent Office. That building, of course, now houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. In fact, some of you may know that the USPTO provided exhibit materials to the Smithsonian as early as the mid-19th century, when the Smithsonian first shifted from a pure research institution to one that also featured museum exhibitions.

One of the Smithsonian’s original exhibitions was the wealth of material that came from the U.S. Exploring Expedition, a group of sailing ships that explored the globe. The story of that journey has been told in an exhibition in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. For many years, the Exploring Expedition exhibitions were housed at the Patent Office.  Eventually—much to the relief of the Commissioner for Patents, who had to navigate everything from South Pacific warrior spears to taxidermied wildlife just to get to his office each morning—the exhibition was relocated to a brand-new building next to the Smithsonian Castle. We now know that as the Arts and Industries building.

Here we are in the 21st century, and the collaboration continues. I want to join John Gray in recognizing and thanking David Allison and the great team of curatorial staff who worked so long and so hard on the exhibition.  I also want to recognize and thank our terrific USPTO team led by Richard Maulsby and Elizabeth Dougherty.  They have been ably assisted by Larry Tarazano from Patents and Paul Fahrenkopf from Trademarks.

Even as we celebrate today, USPTO and Smithsonian employees are collaborating on still more programs here at the National Museum of American History, and at other Smithsonian venues. So stay tuned; there’s a lot more to come from our collaboration. Thank you, all. Please join us shortly for the ribbon cutting and public opening of the Innovation Wing and the American Enterprise exhibition.