Remarks delivered at the Annual Kickoff to Women’s History Month: Valiant Women of Yesterday and Today
Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Laura Peter
March 3, 2020
As prepared for delivery
Good morning everyone, and thank you, Bismarck for your kind introduction. I would like to begin by extending my congratulations to the Bright Knights Chapter of Federally Employed Women, as you celebrate 5 years here at the USPTO.
Twenty-twenty is certainly a year for celebration as it also marks: around 200 years of the women’s suffrage movement, and the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. This anniversary holds a special place in my heart, as my great grandmother played a small part in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900s.
My great-grandmother Alexandra Spencer was born and raised in San Francisco. San Francisco was host to a number of women’s suffrage movements and organizations. My great-grandmother was never a shrinking violet, and a zealous advocate for what she believed to be fair.
Around 1910, 1911, when she was a in her early twenties, she helped lead the women’s march for women’s rights down Market Street, the main through-fare where parades are still held in San Francisco. My family has always told me that I take after her.
A generation earlier in the 1880s, another woman was hard at work creating her own change. Josephine Cochran was tired of washing dishes, so in the shed behind her house, she invented the first commercial “dish washing machine.” This may have been one of the world’s first “she-sheds.”
After her husband’s death, the drive to commercialize her invention became one not just for convenience, but also for financial survival. Patented in 1886, Josephine’s dishwashing machine was a momentous achievement; not only for the efficiency brought forth by the invention, but also for the fact that she accomplished this, on her own.
At the time, to Josephine and most women of the times, the fear of walking unescorted without a gentleman across a hotel lobby was more daunting than the fear of failure. And yet, she not only forged ahead as a patented innovator, but she was also able to cross that grand hotel lobby and win her first large commercial contract at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago.
Josephine Cochran paved the way for other female innovators. Josephine founded Cochran's Crescent Washing Machine Company to sell her invention to hotels and restaurants. This company later became KitchenAid, part of Whirlpool Corporation.
The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” Both my great-grandmother and Josephine Cochran had a fire inside of them, an independent nature and a personal confidence. Yet, in a constructive way that furthered their own success and the success of the community. They were not alone. So many women did and still do.
As a nation, we must expand our innovation ecosphere to include people from all demographic, geographic, and economic realms. In the U.S., women hold a greater percentage of jobs than men. But even so, women comprise only a small minority of patent inventors.
According to the USPTO’s Progress and Potential study, women inventors made up only 12% of all inventors on patents granted in 2016. Clearly our work is far from done. Women are among the “lost Einsteins”—people who would contribute valuable inventions had they had early exposure to innovation and inventor role models. How can we change this?
Here at the USPTO, we are working hard to demystify IP, tell the stories of successful women inventors like Josephine Cochran, and encourage more women to participate in the innovation ecosphere, through award programs, workforce development, and the promotion of USPTO educational programs.
According to the recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global IP Index, the U.S is the number one IP system in the world for the second year in a row. That’s impressive. But, global competition is fierce. In order to maintain our technological leadership, it is imperative that we harness the untapped brain power of women. We need all hands on deck if we are to excel as an economy and as a nation.
You, the members of Federally Employed Women here at the USPTO, have contributed greatly to empowering women, and I ask that you remind each other and other women out there how important your contributions are to the advancement of the status of women, especially in the technology realm and in the world economy. Thank you.