Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at National Inventors Hall of Fame Induction

USPTO Director Michelle K. Lee

May 5, 2016, 7 p.m.

NIHF Induction

Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Thank you, and good evening. Let me start by thanking my boss, Secretary Pritzker, for kicking off this celebration tonight. And also a warm welcome back to Mo Rocca who is our host for a second straight year. Finally, I must thank the hardworking members of my USPTO team, and our partners, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the Smithsonian. They do so much behind the scenes to make this a night to remember, and we are greatly appreciative of their hard work.

Tonight is about celebrating the distinguished careers and contributions of this year’s inductees-those honored individuals wearing those red, white and blue ribbons adorned with the National Inventors Hall of Fame medal. We are excited to be here to celebrate your achievement and contributions to innovation. To our guests, some of you who have travelled long distances to be here. Thank you for being here to join for this special celebration. A few of you are attending your first induction; for others, this has become an annual event you mark on your calendar and never miss, because it allows us to be present with the men and women responsible for transforming our world through innovation.  As part of their induction this evening, our honorees will be forever honored and remembered for their contributions to innovation with a place in our National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, right in our headquarters in Alexandria.

A brief stroll through our Museum provides great inspiration. Whether it’s our Intellectual Property Power exhibit that tells the story of the critical role patents and other IP played in the innovation process or exhibits that show the evolution of the camera or the mobile phone; or our newest exhibit—a Mustang convertible provided by Ford Motor Company where the left half of the car is an original 1965 Mustang, and the right side of a 2015 model. You don’t have to look far for inspiration or to understand the importance of innovation to our country’s history.

For me, our most profound exhibit highlights the men and women whose discoveries and inventions have changed the foundation of the world in which we live- men and women like those we honor tonight. To highlight their individuality, along with their achievement, each innovator inducted into the Hall of Fame receives an icon to be permanently affixed to our Museum’s Wall of Icons. Each icon represents an inventor whose work contributed to the “progress of science and the useful arts” and a legacy for the innovators that follow them. Each icon, in the form of a glass hexagon, has the name of the Hall of Fame Inductee and patent number inscribed on it. Last night, at a private ceremony for inductees and their loved ones, each new inductee was able to place their name on their own icon, at which point it immediately lit up, like a Eureka moment in real life. The illumination of each new hexagon on our Hall of Fame’s Wall of Icons is meaningful and lights the flame of further invention. Every one of those illuminated hexagons on the Wall of Icons in our National Inventors Hall of Fame supports the larger structure of America’s honeycomb of innovation.

Our nation’s first patent examiner, Thomas Jefferson, once wrote: "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me." It's a powerful metaphor and an appropriate one, for even in the span of his public career Jefferson could see, with his own eyes, how the patents he had approved as our nation’s first patent examiner sparked further invention. Indeed, our system of intellectual property protection is premised on the notion of exclusivity for a limited period of time to the creator in exchange for enriching the public’s knowledge of science and the useful arts. For instance, it is impossible to conceive of the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor that Inductee Bantval Jayant Baliga invented if not for the transistor that past Inductees John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invented, or the integrated circuit developed by Inductees Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce. Titanium is key to Inductee Per-Ingvar Brånemark’s dental implants, and that was available for use to him because of a process developed by past Inductee William Kroll. The contributions of tonight’s Inductees are not static but lay the foundation for future invention. Innovation leading to more innovation. This is precisely what our country’s founding fathers intended when they provided for intellectual property protection in our Constitution.

Thanks to the contributions of tonight’s honorees, our Wall of Icons will shine a little brighter. And while each individual icon may not produce much light, together, they light the way toward a brighter and brighter future for our country and the world. So thanks to all our inductees for helping to light the way. And I wish everyone a wonderful and inspirational evening, and much success in your future endeavors.

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