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Military Invention Day Remarks

The Invention Imperative: Remarks by Chief Administrative Officer Fred Steckler at Military Invention Day

May 20, 2017

USPTO Chief Administrative Officer Fred Steckler

“The Invention Imperative”

May 20, 2017, 12:00 p.m.

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History

Thank you, Director Daemmrich, and good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here.  I bring greetings on behalf of the 13,000 dedicated employees of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

I’m especially thrilled this is being held in the Lemelson Center and the Museum of American History—with which the Patent and Trademark Office has a great, collaborative relationship. And it’s an honor to be sharing this section of today’s program with Director Daemmrich and General Milley.

As a military veteran myself—of the U.S. Navy—and as Chief Administrative Officer of the USPTO, I’m very proud of the fact that our agency has a robust Veteran Hiring Program. In 2012, we launched a comprehensive and aggressive Veteran Hiring Program. Since then, we’ve hired more than 600 veterans. And recently, we’ve focused on establishing partnerships with Operation Warfighter and the Wounded Warrior program.

Our veterans even have an affinity group called the USPTO Military Association. Their motto is “Continuing to Serve”, which I think is entirely appropriate since they bring to their work at the USPTO the same spirit of selfless service and love of country that led them to serve in uniform as young men and women. So in that sense alone, this connection between innovation, intellectual property, and the military is nothing new to many of us who work at the USPTO.

We’ve seen the importance of innovative technologies both in and out of uniform, and we all have a strong interest in, first, making sure our nation continues to be a world leader in innovation, and, second, ensuring that our nation’s military continues to benefit from that competitive edge.

Since the purpose of this portion of today’s program is, in part, to offer some historical perspective on American inventions and the role of intellectual property in promoting innovation, I’ll start by answering an important question some of you may have: What is intellectual property?

Simply put, the term intellectual property—or IP, as we call it—refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. The three most common forms of IP are patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

When talking about IP in relation to invention and technology, as we are today, what we’re really talking about is patents. And here’s something that may surprise you: the U.S. patent system is as old as our nation itself. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the 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.”

What that means is that in exchange for a temporary monopoly granted by the government, which provides a financial incentive to invent, the inventor shares the details of his or her invention with the public at large, which in turn encourages and enables more innovation by other inventors seeking to improve on that invention. That, in a nutshell, is the concept behind patents and our patent system more broadly.

As the Lemelson Center and Museum of American History do such a great job highlighting, it’s a concept that’s worked out quite well for our country. You can see the evidence of our patent system’s success on display in some of the current exhibitions in this building, including American Enterprise, which traces our country’s development from a small, dependent agricultural nation to one of the world’s most vibrant economies.

And you can see it on display in America on the Move, which traces the evolution of American transportation, from the railroad to street cars and modern automobiles—all of them created from patented technologies.

In fact if you’re a fan of automobiles, I’m going to put in a shameless plug here: You should come visit the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria. It’s not nearly as big as the Museum of American History, mind you, but it does have a one-of-a-kind display you won’t see anywhere else: a Ford Mustang—one half of it from 1965, and the other half from 2015—welded into a seamless whole. Sitting in the car, you can see with your own eyes how 50 years of patented technological innovations have changed automotive technology and the way we interact with our cars.

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