Remarks delivered at EurekaFest 2020
Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu
June 17, 2020
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Stephanie. Congratulations, inventors! I am so impressed by what I’ve seen today from both the Student Prize winners and the InvenTeams. I’d like to welcome you all to the innovation community.
From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, from The Wright Brothers to Stephanie Kwolek, the American tradition of invention has enriched our lives and solved problems. Backed by our patent system, American ingenuity has been at the forefront of every major scientific and technological revolution. As a result, the tremendous progress we take for granted today has mostly been made over the past 200 years, and mostly with American innovation.
And though lots of factors have gone into that success, I believe that the uniquely important and history-defining factor is the most important innovation of them all: the United States Constitution, and the inclusion in it of intellectual property (IP) rights. In Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, the Constitution gives Congress 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.”
And since then, our constitutional patent system has given rise to a spark of ingenuity and development the magnitude of which humanity has never before known, anywhere in the world, or at any time in history.
Now that you are inventors too, you’re a crucial part of that system—because you represent its future. Your generation of innovators will go on to invent things that we can barely dream of today. I can’t wait to see what you’ll achieve in the future.
You in particular realize that people of any age can innovate. In fact, anyone—no matter their age, gender, race, or background—can be an inventor. All you need is an idea.
To truly advance innovation and human progress, we must all work to broaden the innovation community and make sure everyone knows that they, too, can change the world through the power of a single idea. We must identify appropriate role models for young people to excite them about futures in science, engineering, and tech. And we must identify mentors to guide budding inventors.
You can play an important part in this effort by acting as a role model or mentor to your peers and to young children. So don’t be shy about boasting that you’re an inventor—you never know whom you could inspire!
Why is this so important? Take, for example, women inventors. Women constitute about half of the population of the United States, and about half of the American workforce. And yet, their participation in STEM jobs and the IP system lags far behind their male counterparts. In the United States, less than 25% of the STEM workforce are women. And the participation of women as inventors named on U.S. patents is even lower. Indeed, the overall U.S. women inventor rate is around 12%.
But as disappointing as these numbers are, they do point to significant potential for the United States. A Harvard study found that increasing invention rates among women, minorities, and those from low-income communities can up to quadruple the rate of U.S. innovation. So, let’s do that!
We must start early. We should never forget that the wonder of discovery and the thirst for innovation begins at a young age, and it should be encouraged and developed before it is too late.
We should also not forget the very real economic benefits of innovation. For example, IP-intensive industries directly and indirectly support about one-third of all U.S. employment and about 40% of the total U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And importantly, workers in IP-intensive industries earn an average wage that is almost 50% higher than wages in other industries.
The bottom line is this: in today’s highly competitive global economy, it’s increasingly important to ensure that all Americans who are willing to work hard, persevere and take risks, have the opportunity to innovate, start new companies, succeed in established companies, and ultimately to achieve the American dream.
In other words, we need all hands on deck. The good news is that you, folks in this meeting, are already on deck. And we need to hear your stories. Just like all inventors, I’m sure each of you has a story about your own personal journey and how you developed your invention.
And I am sure that each of your stories includes a story of perseverance. As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” You know the saying: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Well, true, and I add, “Perseverance is the father of invention.”
So when you share your story, don’t skim over the “failures,” and the resulting perseverance needed, to get to your successes. By sharing your story of perseverance and trying your best even when success is not guaranteed, you can inspire others to keep trying as well.
And I hope you too remember that, and continue to persevere in working towards your own dreams, because that trait will take you far in life. It already has!
Thank you for inviting me to speak. I look forward to answering your questions in a moment.
But now, I understand we’re going to honor some high school InvenTeams who have been issued patents. Let me be the first to congratulate you on this achievement!