Remarks by USPTO Director Kathi Vidal at the Patents for Humanity: COVID-19 awards ceremony

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO

Patents for Humanity: COVID-19 awards ceremony

February 16, 2023

Thank you, Soma, for your kind introduction. Welcome to everyone who is joining us in-person, and all of you who are virtually tuning in to today’s awards program. We are honored to be with you, and with our five Patents for Humanity Award winners.

The Patents for Humanity Program is unique. It rewards inventors who go the extra mile to get their innovative and ground-breaking products to those who need them most. This year’s Patents for Humanity category recognizes the efforts of innovators who have successfully confronted the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three years ago, at the start of the pandemic, our nation’s inventors immediately responded to the challenge. Working with unparalleled urgency, they developed and produced new products and technologies that helped us navigate this global health and economic crisis. In record time, diagnostic tools, vaccines, and therapeutics were developed and approved. A new generation of protective equipment was designed and deployed on a massive scale. Our inventors were able to reduce suffering, save lives, and help get us back on track.

Today, I am honored to recognize the five winners of our Patents for Humanity COVID-19 category competition. The awards recognize these innovators for their rapid response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic through the use of game-changing technologies. I want to commend these innovators for their ingenuity, their dedication, and their creative solutions. Of the 150 applicants, our five winners went through two rounds of judging by experts using two scoring criteria: First, was the effectiveness of the technology to address COVID-19, and second was the technology’s ultimate impact.

The first winner of the COVID-19 Patents for Humanity award is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, of Rockville, Maryland. Congratulations to all of you. In working with the Scripps Research Institute, and Dartmouth College, NIAID invented a stabilized coronavirus spike protein. That was essential to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines that are being used today. The breakthrough enabled the human immune system to mount an effective response against the coronavirus. Their work cleared the path for the unprecedented rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. But then NIAID went one step further: it provided non-exclusive licenses to the technology. This spread the invention to as many vaccine developers as possible. NIAID then partnered with the World Health Organization to promote the stabilized spike protein through the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. As a result, as of today, more than 13 billion COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered throughout the world. (World Health Organization’s Coronavirus-19 Dashboard

Our next winner is Gilead Sciences of Foster City, California. Gilead developed a very effective antiviral medication used to treat COVID-19 known as remdesivir. It is one of the earliest therapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19. The anti-viral has been shown in clinical trials to help those infected with the COVID-19 virus to avoid severe illness, and to recover faster. Gilead has expanded access to remdesivir by working with global pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce and distribute the drug to 127 countries across the globe. By making these agreements royalty free, the company has broadened access to remdesivir to many more people who are now avoiding serious illness. It is another success story associated with the American system that promotes the beneficial development of new technologies. 

Our next winner is Regeneron Pharmaceuticals of Tarrytown, New York. Regeneron developed a novel therapy to help treat and prevent COVID-19. Its medicine is known as REGEN-COV®. It consists of a combination of two monoclonal antibodies. It was the first to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of COVID-19. Regeneron scientists developed the therapy for clinical trial use in only five months. They received the emergency use authorization in 10 months, moving the drug from the lab to patients in need in record time. Regeneron also collaborated with global pharmaceutical company Roche to increase access to REGEN-COV® in the United States and globally. 

Our next winner is the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. The university’s Health Department of Radiology developed 3D-printed nasal swabs. They did this during the earliest days of the pandemic when sterilized swabs were in short supply, and were needed the most. They worked with colleagues from New York’s largest health care provider called Northwell Health to create the initial design and prototype for a 3D-printed nasal swab. The team produced swabs that cost between 25 and 46 cents apiece, as compared to an average of $1 for a commercially-produced swab. Other organizations were involved. 3D printing company Formlabs helped to optimize the design so that the maximum number of swabs could be produced using 3D printers around the world. In all, more than 100 million University of Southern Florida swabs have been used in more than 60 countries. 

Our final winner is Caron Products of Marietta, Ohio. The company developed a decontamination chamber that was used to disinfect personal protective equipment when PPE was in short supply during the height of the pandemic. At the time, surgeries and other medical procedures were being cancelled due to the lack of PPE for nurses, doctors, and patients. Caron Products halted all other engineering research and new-product development projects in order to focus on developing a system to decontaminate PPE for reuse. The rapid deployment of its decontamination chambers helped relieve some of the strain on the over-taxed supply chain for sterile equipment and gear. It’s another great example of a company prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our nation. 

The five winners of the Patents for Humanity competition continue to make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of people around the globe. We hope these success stories serve as inspiration for more individuals to harness innovation for human progress, and in doing so, change the world for the better.

Before I close, I want to thank former Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Chuck Grassley, along with Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Veronica Spartz for their leadership in sponsoring the Patents for Humanity Program Act of 2022. This legislation was signed by President Biden in December 2022. It codifies the Patents for Humanity program. I am certain that this award program will serve in the future as an incentive for the creation of more breakthroughs and innovations that benefit all of us. From all of us at the USPTO, a big thank you to all our winners, and congratulations on your achievements. Thank you, and now back to Soma to conclude our program.