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Tuesday Jun 01, 2021

Help us find the next National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureates

Blog by Drew Hirshfeld, performing the functions and duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO

National Medal of Technology and Innovation

The design for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation is the work of medalist and sculptor Mico Kaufman of North Tewksbury, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

From the personal computer to satellite technology, the last few decades of technological innovation have dramatically changed the way we live our lives. Those changes would not have been possible without the amazing inventors behind them – women and men who inspire us all with their spirit of ingenuity and perseverance. That’s why we are immensely proud to administer the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (NMTI), our nation’s highest honor in technological achievement, which recognizes these often unsung heroes.

Awarded by the President of the United States, the NMTI is given to individuals, teams, and companies that have made lasting contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation. We are currently soliciting nominations from the public for this high honor, and we invite a wide range of submissions for recipients of the NMTI – called Laureates – that represent the diversity and ingenuity of our incredible innovation ecosystem from all corners of the United States.

If you know of a person or team who you feel has changed the technological landscape through their discoveries and achievements, we want to know! Submissions are being accepted on the NMTI page of the USPTO website through July 30.

By highlighting the importance and achievements of NMTI Laureates, the Medal is also meant to inspire future generations of Americans to prepare for and pursue technical careers. Since the Medal’s inception in 1980, only 220 people have been awarded this prestigious recognition. Here are just a few of their stories.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak receive the NMTI from President Reagan

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak receive the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan. (Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were among the first class of Laureates in 1985. Their development of the personal computer revolutionized the world, bringing the power of computing technology into people’s homes. Relying on Jobs’ marketing and design skills and Wozniak’s engineering insights, the pair co-founded Apple Computers in 1976. Today, Apple remains an international, multibillion-dollar company.

Helen Edwards receives the NMTI from President George H.W. Bush

Helen Edwards receives the National Medal of Technology from President George H.W. Bush. (Photo courtesy of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library)

Helen Edwards was the first woman to receive the NMTI. She was awarded the Medal in 1989 for overseeing the design, construction, and operation of the TEVATRON particle accelerator. This amazing piece of equipment explored the fundamental properties of matter. It allowed experiments that could previously only be theorized, by accelerating beams of protons and antiprotons to approximately the speed of light around a four-mile circumference. It was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world for 25 years.

Irwin Jacobs receives NMTI from President Clinton

Irwin Jacobs received the NMTI from President William J. Clinton. (Photo courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum)

Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, received the NMTI in 1994 for taking a military technology called Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and transforming it into 3G cellular and wireless networks. 3G allows multiple conversations to share the same frequencies simultaneously. This, in turn, allowed for more customers and fewer cellphone towers—and made wireless technology more affordable.

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James West receives the NMTI from President George W. Bush. (Photo courtesy of the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation)

James West received the NMTI in 2006 for co-inventing the foil electret microphone, which is used in phones, computers, hearing aids, and many other devices. Over two billion electret microphones are currently produced every year. After working at Bell Labs for 40 years, West is still inventing as a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a lifelong advocate for increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

Yvonne Brill receives NMTI from President Barack Obama

Yvonne Brill receives the NMTI from President Barack Obama. (Photo by Arva Adams/USPTO)

Yvonne Brill received the NMTI in 2010 for inventing a rocket propulsion system to keep communications satellites in their orbits—a remarkable achievement for a woman who was not allowed to major in engineering in college and chose to major in chemistry and mathematics instead. Brill is believed to be the only woman in the United States who was working in rocket science in the mid-1940s. She advocated for women in engineering and science throughout her career.

We are honored to celebrate the best minds in American innovation whose creations have improved our world and kept the United States at the forefront of global technology and economic leadership. For more information on the NMTI and the award process, attend the webinar on June 2, sign up for the USPTO Awards newsletter, or contact us at nmti@uspto.gov.

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