Remarks by Michelle K. Lee at Patents for Humanity Awards Ceremony

USPTO Director Michelle K. Lee

April 20, 2015, 9 a.m.

Indian Treaty Room, Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Patents for Humanity Awards Ceremony

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us here today. I’d like to offer special thanks to Jennifer Lee, the Deputy General Counsel for OSTP, and Ed Elliott, the USPTO’s Patents for Humanity Program Manager, for helping put this event together, and to Dr. Holdren and Mr. Michael Oister for taking the time out of their busy schedules to speak here today.

I’d also like to thank our three new partners for the 2014 Patents for Humanity award cycle: The Association of University Technology Managers, who solicited and provided dozens of technical experts across its membership to act as judges. We appreciate their time and expertise.  The Diplomacy Matters Institute, which led our first targeted outreach effort to foreign embassies in Washington, D.C.  As can be seen from this year’s results, our foreign colleagues quickly embraced the program. Many thanks to DMI.   And the co-sponsor of this award ceremony and many other USPTO programs, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which procured the trophies for our winners.

If you haven’t recently visited the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in our Alexandria headquarters, please do come by. It’s currently closed for renovations, but will reopen on May 12 with all new exhibits!  I also appreciate the support this program has received from the Patent Office Professional Association and their president, Bob Budens. Thank you, Bob! And of course I’d be remiss if I didn't thank the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy for arranging to have this ceremony in the magnificent Indian Treaty Room.  

You may have noticed some of the room’s nautical details, like: The constellation of stars etched in the ceiling panels. The seahorses and dolphins that run along the cast iron railing on the second level. And the compass in the center of the floor.  They date back to the late 19th century when the Department of the Navy moved into the east wing. But they seem especially appropriate for today’s ceremony, because in many ways Patents for Humanity is like a beacon for innovators—leading them to the full potential of their innovations, in the service of humanity. It’s an example of the great things that can be accomplished when intellectual property rights and innovation work together to solve problems of a truly global scope.  

In a ceremony at the USPTO just two weeks ago, we marked the 225th anniversary of the First Patent Act, signed into law by President George Washington in 1790. The words contained in that act— “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or… any improvement thereon”–laid the groundwork for more than two centuries of cumulative innovation that transformed our nation and our way of life, in ways President Washington and the Founding Fathers could never have imagined. The only U.S. president to ever own a patent, Abraham Lincoln, once said that patents “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things,” and that has never been truer than it is today.

In recent years, we’ve seen the profound impact that good ideas—patented and marketed—can have on human beings, transcending national borders and transforming lives around the world. It’s because of that transformative power that we are here today. We want to showcase the laudable work of patent owners to address 21st century humanitarian challenges, and demonstrate how patents can and do help build a better world.

Consider what these award winners have been able to accomplish. They have found new and innovative ways to: combat malaria, tuberculosis, and malnutrition; improve basic sanitation;  provide light through solar power; and increase mobility for disabled people; all in some of the most disadvantaged and under-served regions of the world. And, given the global impact of our program, I think it’s especially noteworthy that among this year’s Patents for Humanity winners are foreign recipients—from France, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In addition to the very tangible benefits their inventions and those of their fellow award winners will deliver, they will also inspire others to bring the power of innovation to bear on more of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.  

At the USPTO, we get inquiries all the time from inventors hoping to follow our winners’ examples. That’s the difference Patents for Humanity and its award winners are making in the world—not just innovating, but inspiring and leading by example. So I’d like to congratulate all of you for being a part of that great and noble effort. You are all truly amazing innovators. The benefit of the work you’ve done is incalculable. Your ground-breaking efforts are making a difference in the lives of millions of people around the world. And the example you have set will inspire and guide countless more innovators. Thank you all for coming today, and my thanks again to the White House and all of you who have made today possible.

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