Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at Iowa STEM Day

Iowa STEM Day

Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee

Thursday February 18, 2016

10:00 AM

Iowa State Capitol
1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 

Good morning everyone! I’m delighted to be here in Des Moines for Iowa STEM Day. Thank you Lieutenant Governor Reynolds for inviting me, and to the STEM Advisory Council for putting on such a valuable event.

Senator Grassley recently proposed to move U.S. high schools into the 21st century by requiring each to offer at least one high-quality computer science course by the 2018–19 academic year. He’s also pushing for middle school students to have access to exploratory units on coding. As a computer programmer by training, I couldn’t agree more. And what’s great about promoting STEM education is that it is in every way bipartisan.

President Obama is also a strong proponent of STEM education. As he said in last month’s State of the Union address, we must offer “every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.” And to make that a reality, a few weeks ago, he launched a "Computer Science for All" initiative, which we at the USPTO are proud to support with several of our educational programs.

Promoting the advancement of the next generation of innovators is a core component of our mission as America’s Innovation Agency. But it’s not just a USPTO imperative, it’s an American imperative. We need more STEM education for all children, but we must recognize that girls and minorities are underrepresented in STEM higher education and STEM careers.  At the USPTO, we’ve launched an initiative called “All in STEM” – to encourage more women to pursue STEM degrees and careers, for the benefit of our economy and society. As the first woman to lead the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in our office’s 225+ year history, and as a woman educated in electrical engineering and computer science, I feel a heightened calling to encourage more girls and women to pursue and stay in STEM careers.

When many of our fastest growing and most innovative companies cannot find all of the technical talent they need here in America, why wouldn’t we want to do our part to make sure everyone has equal access to that job pipeline?  There are currently half a million job openings in the United States in the information technology field. And the average salary in a job that requires IT skills is 50 percent higher than the average private-sector American job.  

We want all our young people today to participate equally and fully in these areas of greatest economic growth. That’s why it’s so important to have all these STEM groups doing great work in Iowa represented here today, to inspire young people. So let me tell you about some of the ways the USPTO is helping teachers and students across the country, including right here in Iowa. First, I’m excited to announce that the USPTO and the National Science Foundation, in collaboration with NBC Learn, is launching the second installment of the Science of Innovation series. These are short videos and corresponding lesson plans primarily for use by middle and high school teachers.  Each five-minute video tells the story of how an inventor got inspiration for an idea, obtained patents, and how he or she is working to turn that invention into new products or services. For example, one story is about Angelique Johnson.  She was inspired to find a better way to make cochlear implants—devices that allow deaf people to hear—so that they would be less expensive and more people could have access to them.  Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Senator Grassley, and I visited Bettendorf High School near Davenport. I had the chance to show the students and teachers at Bettendorf examples of these new videos, and the USPTO team provided training to the teachers on how to use them. I know these will have an impact in schools across the country.

Another program we hold for teachers is our Annual National Summer Teacher Institute on Innovation, STEM and Intellectual Property. This professional development training opportunity is designed to help elementary, middle, and high school teachers incorporate concepts of making, inventing, and intellectual property into classroom instruction. I’m proud to say that Iowa teachers have been participating in the National Teachers Institute since its inception, and we look forward to having Iowa represented again this summer when we bring our Teacher Institute program to the Midwest.

We have a variety of exciting programs for students as well. One of them is Camp Invention, a partnership with the non-profit Invent Now, and represented here today.  The more than 100,000 kids who participate in the week-long summer enrichment program get hands-on experience designing, prototyping, assembling, testing and refining a new invention made from household parts like old typewriters and computers. This past summer, we held Camp Invention in 14 Iowa schools.

Another USPTO initiative is our partnership with the Girl Scouts of America to create a patch on IP and innovation. To earn the IP patch, young women learn about the fundamentals of patents, trademarks, and copyrights, then put their innovative spirits to work on creating something. I was a girl scout once—first a Brownie, then a junior—and the patches I remember receiving were on First Aid and sewing!

Here today, we have representatives here from the USPTO’s Office of Education, who can speak to you further about our programs for students and teachers in Iowa.  All of these educational programs share the same mission: that all inventors, regardless of age, be empowered to create. You should know that there is no age requirement to invent something or get a patent. All you need is an original invention. As the President said in his State of the Union, “[t]he spirit of discovery is in our DNA.” 

I’d like every young person in the state of Iowa and across the U.S. to have the tools they need to invent, create, and build.  Our educational programs, and our role in providing intellectual property training and protection, can help incentivize that innovation.

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