Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at National Medal of Technology & Innovation Awards Dinner

Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

May 19, 2016, 8 p.m.

National Medal of Technology & Innovation Awards Dinner

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good evening, everyone, and welcome back! It’s not often we get to bring our NMTI winners back for a “redo”, so I guess that makes tonight’s event even more unique and special than most. And I feel terrible for those of you who were stranded here during the blizzard. As someone who was born in raised in California, I have to say, I’m still getting used to D.C.’s winter weather myself. The irony is that while the blizzard completely shut down the federal government in the D.C. area, 77 % of the USPTO’s total workforce was still hard at work, thanks to our robust teleworking capabilities. Like the Post Office, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor the gloom of night” can prevent our examiners and staff from the completion of their important duties on behalf of America’s innovators. And it’s an honor to be here tonight with some of those great American innovators—whose bright minds and generous spirits are making our world a better place one invention at a time.

As we toast your tremendous contributions to society, I want to also take a moment to thank our partners who made tonight’s gala possible: Dr. Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy; and James Rathmann, Chairman of the Board for the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation; And I especially want to thank my distinguished colleague, Dr. France Cordova, for her leadership on the National Medal of Science. I’m so pleased we can continue to work together on this wonderful, annual celebration of invention and innovation.

Walt Disney once said “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Tonight, we get to celebrate a group of individuals who dared to have big dreams and succeeded in achieving the extraordinary. It’s a sincere privilege to join you in commemorating the work of a select group of remarkable women and men whose unrelenting research and fearless ingenuity in their respective fields have unlocked new frontiers to the benefit of all mankind. We’ve already heard a few of their inspiring stories tonight, and I look forward to hearing the rest of them with all of you.

Now, there’s no way for a patent examiner to know, at the time, which applications he or she is reviewing will change the world. That’s what’s so special about the National Medal of Technology & Innovation, it allows us to look back at those innovations that were truly revolutionary. The medalists and their accomplishments remind us that our nation continues to be built by those willing to challenge traditions, willing to push the boundaries of convention, and willing to test new limits in design and thought. From pioneering innovations in microelectronics to breakthroughs in medical technology and DNA sequencing, today’s new laureates not only reimagined the world we live in, they paved the way for other creative thinkers to build on their accomplishments through a basic compact—the U.S. patent—enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to our nation’s economic leadership in the 21st century. Sir Isaac Newton—the man who developed the theory of gravity, which changed the way we viewed our own place in the universe—put it best: “If I have seen a little further,” wrote Newton, “it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” You have now been recognized as giants in your own fields.

Thank you for the incredible legacy you’ve left science, and society. And thank you for inspiring us all to continue embracing a sense of wonder in the name of humanity. 

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