Rural America: Wellspring of Innovation
Guest blog by USPTO Commissioner for Patents Bob Stoll
Looking at today’s sophisticated high-definition television sets it is hard to imagine that their very foundation could have ever been conceived by a rural farm boy. Yet the legendary account of this farm boy’s inspiration for his image dissector occurred as he was plowing a field. His name was Philo Farnsworth and at that moment the idea that would become electronic television was born. Just like his 19th century counterparts, John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, Eli Whitney and George Washington Carver, one of the fathers of the modern television industry found inspiration from his rural environment.
That practice remains alive and well today. We see it in places like Blaine, Minn., where Pam Turner invented the Spiral Eye™ Sewing Needle; Athens, Texas, where Lesia Farmer invented products for the kitchen; Wake Forest, N.C., where Michael Sykes invented a home building system; and Sonora, Calif., where Julia Rhodes invented KleenSlate Concepts®, dry erase products. Today, in the age of the internet, more inventions are collaborative efforts rather than creations in isolation like Farnsworth’s invention. But even with all that is available at the touch of a keystroke it is still important to have experts readily accessible to support today’s American innovators wherever they may be.
That is why I think this month’s regional conference for independent inventors held in Pasadena, California was so important. More than 100 inventors from communities large and small attended the two day event including several from small communities in Utah and Arizona. Senior USPTO officials, successful inventors and intellectual property experts provided practical advice and information on such subjects as applying for patent and trademark protection, licensing, marketing and developing inventions, and accessing government and private resources. Most important, attendees had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with the experts to discuss their specific issues and to network with other inventors.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. Many attendees were particularly impressed that a large government agency would come all the way across the country to hold such an event. My view is that innovation occurs everywhere—basements, garages, large corporations, universities and in cities large and small—and it is part of our mission to seek out those who invent and support them in any way we can. That is why I enthusiastically endorsed USPTO Director David Kappos’s decision to create a new Office of Innovation Development. In the year ahead we will be holding regional inventors conferences throughout the United States. You never know where we may find the next Philo Farnsworth. What we do know is that if America’s economy is to grow and prosper again we need to reach out and support all the innovators we can.