Remarks Prepared for Kathi Vidal
Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and
Director of the USPTO
ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit
May 24, 2022
It is my absolute pleasure to be here in Colorado at the annual ARPA-E meeting to describe how important the U.S. system of patent protection is to the development of a clean-energy future — and a hopeful future — for millions of people.
But before I do that, let me thank all of you for your commitment to developing the leading edge of new and innovative technologies. Your knowledge, persistence, and drive to see these breakthroughs move from the lab to market is truly commendable.
At the USPTO, we are focused on innovation-to-impact. We are encouraging more innovation and commercialization from a more diverse group of inventors. Patents are the primary vehicle used by our universities, our government labs, our big companies, and our startups, and our individuals to turn new inventions and technologies into commercial products and entirely new industries.
We must do this in the clean-energy space.
It is important for the future.
It is important for the country.
It is important for the world.
It is reassuring to know that some of the brightest minds in the country — the minds in this room — have the same focus. Together, we can get this done.
In a few minutes, you are going to hear from an incredible innovator, an incredible start-up founder, and an incredible person, my friend Dr. Suresh Sunderrajan, Associate Lab Director of Argonne National Laboratories. We will hear how he has used the intellectual property ecosystem and, in particular patents, to get funding and bring his ideas to market.
Before that, though, I want to share a few stats about the importance of innovation, and I want to bust a few myths about patents.
We know that innovation is the primary driver of the U.S. economy. Industries based on innovation and the protection of intellectual property generate almost $8 trillion in GDP, and account for 44% of all U.S. jobs.[i]
These jobs are not only in places like Silicon Valley, but are spread throughout the country. They pay high wages, and offer the best benefits. Workers in patent-intensive industries earn almost $1,900 per week. That is 97% higher than the average weekly wage of workers in non-IP intensive industries.
We also know that startup companies with a patent are far more likely to be successful in raising funding than those that have not secured intellectual property protection. When used as collateral, a patent increases venture capital funding by 76% over three years, and increases funding from an initial public offering by 128%.
The approval of a startup’s first patent application increases its employee growth by 36% over the next five years.[ii] After five years, a new company with a patent increase its sales by a cumulative 80% more than companies that do not have a patent.
These are staggering figures — clear evidence of the need for patent protection, and a very good reason for all of you to look at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as your innovation partner.
Now, here are five myths about the U.S. patent system that need to be busted.
The first is: I can focus on my business now and get my patents later.
The truth is, you only have a limited window of time to file for a patent. Before you publish or share your idea, or release a product using your idea, make sure you consult with someone about patenting.
Myth number two: I can’t afford to get a patent.
The truth is, you can’t afford not to. If you receive a patent on a new technology, it provides you with 20 years of protection to invest and develop that invention for commercial gain. Without a patent, you don’t have market power. You need patents to protect the investment needed to develop and commercialize your novel technology.
Patents are not expensive for individual inventors and small entities. The USPTO has substantially reduced fees those who qualify. We also administer a nationwide Pro Bono Patent Program[iii] to help financially disadvantaged applicants craft high-quality patent applications, submit them, and see them through examination at the Patent Office. This Pro Bono Patent Program has already matched more than 3,400 inventors and small businesses with patent practitioners who have helped them file almost 2,000 patent applications.
The third myth is: I have to make something to get a patent.
The truth is, you do not. In the past, you had to submit a physical model of the invention. The model of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb is in my office. You no longer need to do so. And it’s best to patent early — even before you make a product, because you do not want to trigger an event that will prevent you from getting a patent. That means for those of you in research laboratories, you should be talking with technology transfer specialists who can help with the patent application, and in licensing the patent. It is hard to license a new technology for further development or a commercial application without a patent.
Myth number four: I can only patent ground-breaking ideas.
The truth is, most patents are on incremental advances. Everything new is built upon current knowledge and practice. Patents that have already been granted and the millions that have expired provide the basis of knowledge and practice in virtually every industry.
Myth five: Because it can take a while to get a patent, then a patent doesn’t have much value.
The truth: There are benefits of “patent pending.” Having a pending application helps secure funding, and it keeps potential competitors out of your space.
The final, overall truth is that U.S. patent system has been the main driver of our economy for centuries, and at the USPTO we want it to power the new technologies aimed at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
I’m incredibly pleased to announce today that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has created a new program to accelerate the development of clean and green energy technologies. Our new Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program will provide for a fast-track review of patent applications that cover a product or process that mitigates climate change.
This is already a booming area of technology development. Our Patent Tech Center that focuses on these technologies last year received 40,000 patent applications. That is down slightly from the previous year, likely due to the pandemic, but it still constitutes almost 7% of yearly patent applications across all fields of technology.
If you have a technology that could have a positive impact on the climate, you can file a petition to have an expedited examination of your patent application.
To all of you involved in the next generation of clean energy technologies, you can look to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as your partner in developing your technologies into products and systems that will change the trajectory of our energy future. Our 8,000 patent examiners are here to serve you, our inventors, our developers, our technology transfer and licensing officials, our entrepreneurs, and our dreamers.
[i] Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy, Third Edition, USPTO, 2021, https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/economic-research/intellectual-property…
[ii] National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. w21959, “The Bright Side of Patents,” published Feb. 9, 2016. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2729060. The authors updated this study in 2019: “What is a Patent Worth? Evidence from the U.S. Patent ‘Lottery,’ ” Journal of Finance, USPTO Economic Working Paper 2015-5, 74 pages, revised July 9, 2019.
[iii] Patent Pro Bono Program for Independent Inventors and Small Businesses, https://www.uspto.gov/patents/basics/using-legal-services/pro-bono/pate…