Remarks delivered at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders event “The Future of Business”
Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Laura Peter
October 27, 2020
As prepared for delivery
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you Jan-Ie (Low), for the kind introduction.
It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss how we can empower all to innovate, enhance economic growth, and improve quality of life, and what this could mean for the future of business.
I believe that the future of business must include the increased participation of women and minorities in the innovation economy. I would like to start by telling you about one of this Administration’s and the USPTO’s recent initiatives—and one important to the future of business.
Last month, the USPTO launched the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI). This council will help develop a national strategy to encourage and equip Americans across all demographics to become inventors and entrepreneurs.
Led by the United States Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, the Council is comprised of a cross section of leaders in the United States from industry, academia and government.
I was delighted to see some of America’s most important leaders engaged on this Council, including biotech innovator Dr. Deepa Pakianathan and technology venture capitalist and entrepreneur Mallun Yen. Their personal dedication to expanding the innovation ecosphere is inspirational, and I am looking forward to seeing the impact that the NCEAI and expanding innovation has for all Americans.
Recent studies indicate that by harnessing the creative talent of women, minorities, and children from low-income households in the United States, we could quadruple the number of inventors and increase the overall U.S. gross domestic product per capita by up to 4.4%. To put this in perspective, this is almost $1 trillion in the United States’ GDP!
The Trump Administration and Congress have recognized this crucial issue, and the need for action. In 2018, President Trump signed into law the “Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success Act of 2018,” known as the “SUCCESS Act.” One of its requirements was to study the current state of innovation in the U.S., and to create opportunities for people from all demographics, geographic locations, and economic backgrounds to innovate.
Subsequently, under this Administration, the USPTO published two reports: the first in February of 2019, titled “Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents,” and the second, an update to this report, released in July of this year. Together, these reports found that innovation in the United States is overly concentrated, demographically, economically, and geographically. Also, women comprise only about 13% of all inventors named on U.S. patents.
While the numbers are low, our most recent study indicates that the number of women who remain active in intellectual property (IP) is increasing, and the gender gap is closing for repeat patenting inventors. This is encouraging, but think of what we could accomplish as a nation with more inventors and innovators!
One such inspirational inventor is Alice Chun. Her mother taught origami when she was growing up in South Korea, and she learned the skill. Years later, when she was a professor of Architecture and Material Technology at Columbia University, the terrible earthquake struck in Haiti.
The 2010 earthquake was devastating. It caused widespread power losses, and required many to rely on dangerous kerosene lamps as their only light source. Inspired to help, Professor Chun worked with her students to develop an inflatable solar-powered light that would provide a clean, safe, and sustainable light source.
She named her company Solight Design, and their first product, the SolarPUFF™. It is a compact, foldable light made of a flexible, waterproof material with a solar panel on top. It has a unique origami-based design, floats, and self-inflates so that you do not have to blow it up and possibly spread bacterial contamination.
In 2015, Chun received U.S. Patent 9,200, 770, for her invention, and in 2018, she received a Patents for Humanities award, which is the USPTO’s top honor for those who deploy innovation for solving humanitarian problems. While Professor Chun admits navigating the entrepreneurship and innovation space has been difficult as a minority, she says, “Having a patent has made it easier for me to get funding…and to get the respect of investors.”
As we can see from the example of Professor Chun, unleashing the untapped potential of underrepresented groups holds tremendous benefit for people worldwide. We also see the difference that even one person can make. Let me share with you how the USPTO is engaging in outreach to mentor the next inventors, like Professor Chun.
Under this Administration, the USPTO recently launched the Expanding Innovation Hub. It includes information and tools to help demystify the intellectual property patent process, and help organizations create their own mentoring programs and community groups. This is something I think we do extremely well here at the USPTO, as we have successfully launched mentoring programs and affinity groups for many, many years.
Through our networks and outreach, we are also building opportunities for the Asian Pacific American community, in particular, to grow in the STEM and IP fields. They include: the Asian Pacific American Network (APANET), the Korean American Intellectual Property Organization (KAIPO), and the Bangladeshi-American Intellectual Property Organization (BAIPO). We also have at least four groups that are focused on promoting women in STEM and IP, and many others.
These programs support and reflect our diverse internal USPTO community and contribute to building a diverse innovation ecosphere. Our statistics bear that out of our nearly 13,000 employees, women and minorities make up more than half, at 67.7%; 36% of our total employees are women; and about 30% of our workforce is of Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage. Also, almost 60% of our approximately 900 current attorney positions in groups such as our Patent Trial and Appeal Board, our Office of General Law, and our Solicitor’s office, are filled with women.
As for Professor Chun and the SolarPUFF™, challenges can lead to great opportunities. An earthquake can lead to an invention that does not just help a local population, but has a global impact. Over 300,000 SolarPuffs™ have provided light to people around the world, including in Haiti, Nepal, and Nigeria.
When Chun personally handed SolarPUFF™ lights to children in Dominica, she named them “light warriors” and commanded that they should “fight with the light in their minds and the light in their hearts, and never give up.” I ask the same of all of you.
Today, we too are faced with uncertain times, and many are seizing the opportunities that have been created by them. New businesses and innovations are arising–for example, we are already seeing new vaccines being quickly developed.
With lights in our minds and lights in our hearts, we will work together to navigate challenges and build the future of business where everyone has an opportunity to achieve success.