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Tuesday Mar 31, 2015

Recognizing Women in Science and Technology

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

In observance of Women’s History Month, the USPTO is celebrating the generations of women who have helped shape America. Their stories of achievement—much like the story of America itself—are about a daring and resilient few, willing to take a risk on a new cause, a new idea, or a new invention.

Throughout history, women have played a critical role as innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Take for example some of the women inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame: Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar™; Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Brown, the inventors of the antifungal antibiotic, Nystatin™; and Patsy Sherman, the inventor of Scotchgard™.

Several well-known Hollywood actresses also expanded their creative spark beyond the big screen. Hedy Lamarr, with the help of composer George Antheil, invented and patented a secret communication system in 1941 in an effort to help the allies in World War II, while Julie Newmar, best known for her captivating role as Catwoman™, patented ultra-sheer, ultra-snug pantyhose.

Thanks to innovative women like Mary Anderson, who was inspired by a sudden downpour while traveling to New York City at the turn of the 20th century, modern car drivers, airplane pilots, and even astronauts can see clearly when driving or flying in inclement weather due to her novel windshield wiper, that was patented in 1903.

The USPTO proudly marks such achievements, and I look forward to inducting four women into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May including Mary-Dell Chilton, Edith Clarke, Marion Donovan, and Kristina M. Johnson. Their work in a wide range of fields proves the enduring strength of American innovation. In addition, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria highlighted all women inductees in a special "Women of Innovation" exhibit during the month of March.

I am truly honored to be the first woman director of the USPTO in our nation’s 200+ year history. At the USPTO, we have created an environment where talent can thrive and where ability leads to advancement, regardless of gender. While women represent less than 15 percent of executive officers in the private sector, nearly 40 percent of the USPTO’s executive officer positions are filled by women.  In today’s innovation based economy, an organization can’t afford to overlook the unique talent and ingenuity that women bring to the workplace. Our nation’s economy cannot grow to its full potential unless we ensure that no innovator or entrepreneur is left behind.

More than fifteen years into the 21st century, there are far too few women entering into the science and technology fields. To fix this, we need to start educating kids when they are young. We currently partner with Invent Now and its Camp Invention program, which helps spur inventive thinking in young girls and boys. Our work with the Girl Scouts to support an IP patch also reinforces innovative thinking, specifically among young girls.

At the USPTO, we’re going to continue to find ways to support girls and young women as they enter professional careers and grow to join the ranks at the executive levels.

Join me in a commitment to better prepare more girls and young women to pursue careers in technology, and then empower them to thrive in those careers for the benefit of our economy and society.

Together, we can play a pivotal role in fostering, inspiring, and supporting innovative women, as well as empowering all innovators–men, women, and children.

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