Inventors converge at Invention-Con 2019
Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Laura Peter
Can a 16-year old young woman change the world? Grant her a patent and watch her! Recently, we were privileged to hear an inspiring keynote from Kavita Shukla—an innovator, entrepreneur, and CEO—who is the force behind Freshglow Co. and inventor of FreshPaper. Her patented technology prevents food spoilage and helps avert hunger around the world. After receiving her first patent at the age of 16 and selling FreshPaper at farmers markets, she built her business from the ground up and became an award winning and successful entrepreneur.
Invention-Con keynote speaker Kavita Shukla describes her journey as an inventor and entrepreneur. (photo by Cynthia Blancaflor/USPTO)
She joined other notable speakers Invention-Con 2019, hosted by the USPTO at our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Invention-Con is an outstanding opportunity for inventors, makers, and entrepreneurs to meet and learn from each other, attend workshops, and hear from our officials and intellectual property (IP) experts. Agencies including the Small Business Administration and Copyright Office also presented useful educational materials during the conference.
As it has been the last several years, the two-day event was completely sold out, with over 170 in-person attendees and over 4,000 unique online viewers. Many attendees were new to IP and wanted to learn whether it’s worth patenting their idea or registering a trademark for their product or business. IP professionals from the USPTO and other agencies were able to provide them with an introduction to IP and helped guide them to the resources they needed. Other attendees were already patented inventors who have a product ready for manufacture and wanted to know how to get it from the workshop to the marketplace. For them, we showcased entrepreneurs like Kavita to share their stories and offer hard-earned lessons.
We were lucky to hear from many speakers who shared their stories about obtaining IP protection, developing a business, and commercializing a product. Past Invention-Con favorite, Howie Busch, an inventor and entrepreneur, hosted a panel of Shark Tank contestants. These Shark Tank speakers had great advice to share with our attendees on how to stand out, develop, fund, and market their products.
Entrepreneur Howie Busch (right) moderates the panel “Swim with the Sharks: Learn how national exposure changes your business,” comprised of past Shark Tank contestants. (Photo by Cynthia Blancaflor/USPTO)
It is not uncommon for inventors to return to Invention-Con, year after year. One example is Ruth Young, who after attending in 2017 and 2018 took advantage of the USPTO’s Law School Clinic Certification, Pro Bono, and Pro Se programs. This year, she joined us as a panelist and shared her inspirational invention journey.
Prior to joining the USPTO, I worked with high-tech startups as an IP attorney in Silicon Valley. I know that launching a business can often be an overwhelming and intimidating experience, and the patent process is one more task that is added. The USPTO issues nearly 25% of patents to small and micro-entities, and the percentage of micro-entity patents has grown every year since the USPTO introduced that category for patent applications. In fact, the USPTO issues over 300,000 patents a year, and over 7,500 of those are to micro-entities, including to independent inventors.
It only takes one really good idea to launch a successful enterprise, and it is inspiring to see that many of them are also looking to help society. Consider, for example, the story of Alice Chun, whose company Solight Design was a winner of the 2018 Patents for Humanity award for the SolarPUFF™, a compact foldable light made of a flexible waterproof material with a solar panel on top. Alice was inspired after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to create a product that made light after dark available for the 1.6 billion people still living without electricity. Although the SolarPUFF™ was designed with developing countries in mind, this unique light has also found a market in camping and other outdoor uses. By issuing patents to independent inventors like Alice Chun, in addition to larger entities, the USPTO is helping sow the seeds of success for many other small companies that will continue to invigorate our thriving innovation economy.
History has shown that IP rights have been indispensable to our country’s prosperity and economic growth. In fact, our founders thought IP rights were so important, they had the foresight to enshrine them in our Constitution. In Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, they granted Congress the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
Since then, we have benefitted from the development of electric lighting, powered flight, DNA synthesis, the internet, and countless other transformational technologies. At the USPTO, we are seeing an increasing number of developing technologies that we will benefit from tomorrow, such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and biotechnology.
IP is of key importance to this progress. A 2016 report by the USPTO estimated that in 2014, IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs in the U.S. and contributed $6.6 trillion to the U.S. economy, equivalent to 38.2% of GDP. It is in our interest—in fact, it is our mission—to help all inventors achieve their goals by protecting the fruits of their imagination and determination. Every day, our patent examiners and trademark examiners work with inventors and businesspeople to secure and protect their IP rights for their innovations and brands.
Innovation is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It’s what you can do that gets you IP rights. And, the USPTO’s doors are open to everyone, from all walks of life. Inventors and entrepreneurs are the heart and soul of innovation in America. We at the USPTO remember that every day as we walk through these doors.
Together with Deputy Commissioner for Patents Andrew Faile and Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison, it was a pleasure to meet so many innovative and creative entrepreneurs. If you missed Invention-Con, you can watch recordings of the sessions in the videos section of the USPTO Facebook page. The Invention-Con 2019 booklet also provides a valuable list of services we offer to support inventors, as well as who to contact to learn more. We hope you can join us next year for another incredibly educational and useful Invention-Con!