Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for IP and USPTO Deputy Director Michelle K. Lee
"Spark of Invention" Event Sponsored by Innovation Insights
September 23, 2014
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Thaddeus [Burns], for having me here at this fantastic event, and for your previous service as an IP attaché. And thank you, Jeffrey, for that fascinating and thought-provoking presentation. I'm really glad I was able to be here with you tonight.
I say that because my team here has me quite busy this week. This is my first time leading the USPTO delegation at a WIPO General Assembly, and I'll confess-I didn't realize how many meetings that involves! There's the General Assembly itself, then the group meetings-I just came from one of those, and I provided my peers from other major IP offices the latest from Washington on patent reform and our focus on Building a Better Patent System.
While I'm here in Geneva I'll be signing two Memoranda of Understanding. One is scheduled for tomorrow with the Australians. About six years ago we sought under the Patent Cooperation Treaty to recruit patent offices for a program that allows a patent applicant applying to multiple offices to choose which office will conduct the prior art search and examination for both. Australia was one of the first countries to join with us in this program, although they didn't offer search in every technology area. With this expanded agreement with IP Australia there are no technologies that the office won't examine. Korea joined us in that program even earlier than Australia. But the MoU I'll be signing with the Korean IP Office is an even bigger deal. In fact, it's historic.
Some of you may be aware of the Cooperative Patent Classification system the USPTO launched with the European Patent Office on January 1st of 2013. Under the CPC, examiners in the U.S. and about 45 other nations all aim to use the same set of classification symbols when examining applications. It took years to develop the common language, if you will, and now we're near the end of a two-year implementation, which has required reclassifying existing patents and training thousands of examiners. But it's all worth it, because CPC results in more efficient prior art searches and less duplication of work. Last year KIPO began a pilot program using some of the CPC classifications. It has now agreed to reclassify its entire patent collection. This is a huge step, bringing CPC fully to a third continent. We hope other offices, particularly IP5 offices, will follow KIPO's lead.
Those MoUs are tangible evidence that the hard work the USPTO international team is doing-in our policy and international relations shop and on our Patents team-in paying off. But we aim to do more, and the invention poll reminds me of why this work is so important.
There are so many things that leap out at me in this poll. One would be whether we are truly in the most inventive period in world history. As someone who grew up and spent most of her career in the Silicon Valley, it's tempting for me to say yes. But there are certainly other inventive eras as well. The Neolithic period gave us the wheel; that invention is still getting a bit of mileage, if you'll pardon the pun. Or take the Industrial Age from the early 1800's up to the First World War. People were brought together physically by the locomotive, followed by the automobile and the airplane. And they were brought together virtually as well, first by the telegraph and then by the telephone.
You can make a compelling argument that modern digital interconnectivity is merely evolutionary, not revolutionary. But invention often is evolutionary; as Sir Isaac Newton wrote, inventors stand on the shoulders of genius. And we see that playing across numerous industries today.
Take what many survey participants considered the most important invention in the last ten years, the smartphone. Isn't that just an amalgam of many previous inventions, including of course Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, Marconi's wireless telegraph, Internet technology and more?
So we clearly do live in a time of invention. Is it the most inventive? Here's one argument in favor of that. Most of the Industrial Age inventions-the telegraph, the steam engine, the telephone-were invented by Europeans or Americans. But in the 21st Century, bright minds like Marconi and Bell in all parts of the globe now have an opportunity to change the world through application of their own ideas.
The Time poll reflects this global hunger to innovate. I was struck by the response to the question, "Does your country foster a culture of inventiveness?" The U.S. was in the top four, along with one other mature economy and two developing economies.
Another thing uniting inventors and consumers in both established and developing economies is a belief that protecting invention with intellectual property is vital. Three months ago, in a speech at Stanford Law School, I acknowledged that patents are not the only driver of invention. As such, I said I was not robotically "pro-patent." But I made it clear that I am "pro-patent system."
It appears inventors around the world share that sentiment. Where was this reflected in the data? Emerging markets, where 82 percent of respondents-a higher percentage than any other group-said a patent system is important. Here we start to see a divergence of opinion. There was relative unanimity that the U.S. had the strongest patent system, both among inventors and consumers. But when consumers asked if their own country protected inventors' IP rights, a full 73 percent of them in mature markets said yes, compared to only 56 percent in emerging markets.
All inventors-everywhere-deserve to have their inventions protected and promoted through IP law everywhere. That is why our international IP focus-both in terms of policymaking and in IP processing-specifically advances us toward a world of global IP promotion and protection. One way we do that is through cooperative programs in search and examination, like I was mentioning before with the Patent Cooperation Treaty and with the Cooperative Patent Classification system. In the last year we've cemented our focus in that area by ensuring dedicated resources of time and personnel to these efforts. We've done so though the creation of a brand-new office within the USPTO, the Office of International Patent Cooperation, led by Deputy Commissioner for Patents Mark Powell. Mark and his colleagues work hand in hand with our team in the Office of Policy and International.
A key element of this agency's focus is the Global Dossier project, a signature initiative of the IP5. The IP5 includes the five largest patent offices in the world-ours, as well as Europe's, China's, Korea's, and Japan's. I attended the 2013 meeting the U.S. hosted in Cupertino, California. At that meeting IP5 members agreed to new steps to advance a one-stop-shop for applicants to file and manage a global portfolio of patent applications. The idea is simple: Provide a patent applicant a one-stop shop for multiple offices for all of their needs throughout the process.
But the efficiencies extend to the patent examiners. The Global Dossier program allows examiners in different offices to coordinate their work. It seems common sense, examiners in different offices working together. But in fact it's a revolution, not a mere evolution, of patent examination.
We're actively encouraging other offices to expand the Global Dossier's scope. This is critical, as international patent filings continue to increase year after year. An effective Global Dossier program allows you to map out your travel on the Patent Prosecution Highway, or PPH. This program pairs up patent offices to speed the examination process in a very powerful way. Let's say you receive a positive ruling on a patent claim with one PPH office. Well, you can then request an accelerated prosecution of that claim at another PPH office. Efficient, right?
The problem was that as the program grew in popularity, not all offices adopted the same procedures or new guidelines. If you're going to construct a highway system, the drivers on those roads want to operate under consistent rules-of-the-road. Since the last thing you want to do when eliminating existing inefficiencies is to introduce new ones, we began working with the U.K. IP office and the Japan Patent Office to create a highway system where the rules remain consistent.
At the beginning of this year we launched the Global PPH program, and it now has 17 participating offices, with Singapore and Austria scheduled to join later this year. So we're doing many things to allow inventors to obtain patents faster, more efficiently, and at less cost. But let me say, as the former corporate counsel of an international corporation, I'm well aware that the challenges don't end when you obtain that patent. Numerous obstacles exist in enforcement. Simply navigating another country's legal system can be a deterrent to an enterprise of any size.
That's why our IP Attaché program is so vital. We placed our first attaché in China about eight years ago. We now have three there-in Beijing and Guangzhou-as well as Moscow; Bangkok; Rio de Janeiro; Kuwait City; New Delhi; and here in Geneva.
These talented and hard-working individuals are there for you. They help IP owners navigate foreign markets around the world. They also actively promote strong local enforcement of IP protections and the adoption of strong rights and enforcement in local laws. And note I keep saying IP, not patents. We at the USPTO are focused on promoting and protecting all intellectual property, including trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
You likely know the director of our Office of Policy and International Affairs, Shira Perlmutter.
In the last two years Shira has helped lead negotiations on two significant copyright treaties, one on audiovisual rights and another on empowering the visually impaired. But she's also been busy back home, traveling the United States seeking input on policy solutions for 21st Century copyright challenges. If you haven't read the Copyright Green Paper crafted last year, I encourage you to do so. It's the most significant administration policy paper on copyright law since the Clinton Administration.
Our work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is completely intertwined with the global economy. And our work in that area goes hand in hand with our parent agency, the Commerce Department. It's been an honor to work with Secretary Penny Pritzker, a global entrepreneur. We're a key partner in her "Open for Business" agenda focused on international trade and investment, data, and innovation. You may have heard about the SelectUSA Summit, which brought hundreds of foreign investors from nearly 60 countries together to explore investment deals with more than 200 U.S. economic development organizations. Well, next March a second full SelectUSA summit will be held just across the Potomac River from our headquarters at the National Harbor.
One reason foreign investors find the U.S. attractive, of course, is our robust system of IP protection, often in the form of patents and trademarks issued by the USPTO. You don't have to believe me; the poll Jeffrey just walked us through demonstrates that opinion pretty strongly.
But just as we encourage inventors around the world to obtain the intellectual property protections they deserve in the United States, we want our inventors to obtain the same protections around the world. A truly harmonized IP system benefits all of us, allowing competition purely on the grounds of innovative thinking, and driving advances in personal technology, health care, and other industries in ways that will transform our lives beyond our imagining.
When we realize that fully harmonized IP world, it is then that we truly will be able to say we are living in the most inventive period in history. And we at the USPTO are working hard to achieve that fully harmonized world.
Thank you so much for your time this evening. I'm happy to take a few questions now.
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