Today I had the opportunity to discuss the importance of intellectual property during a World IP Day event at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. I want to share my remarks with you through this blog:
One of the challenges I’ve come to appreciate in my own career in IP law, and particularly as Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, is how to facilitate a better and broader public understanding of the importance of intellectual property in our daily lives. Let’s face it: As engineers, scientists, academics, and lawyers, we don’t always do a great job helping get the public as excited about intellectual property as we are, or in helping them see the connection between intellectual property, the products they enjoy, and the IP-related jobs created every year in our innovation economy. As recently as 2012, a Commerce Department study found that IP-intensive industries support at least 40 million jobs and contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to, or 34.8 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). That’s a huge part of our economy.
As a child of the Silicon Valley, I saw the power of innovation and intellectual property up close and personal. My parents were immigrants, drawn across the Pacific Ocean by the promise of the American Dream. My father was an engineer, and so were all of the dads on the street where I grew up. They worked for tech companies of all sizes, often founded by just one person who grew their businesses through the power of intellectual property. Many of them had the experience of creating an invention, patenting it, and using the protection that patent provided to obtain venture capital funding, hire employees, and begin producing and selling new products and services. Seeing that process as a child made an indelible impression on me, and I never had much doubt about what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” But of course my childhood was shaped by intellectual property in other ways that I didn’t always recognize or appreciate.
Consider the innovative work of Garrett Brown, who last year was inducted into our National Inventors Hall of Fame, a program we conduct in partnership with the non-profit Invent Now, to promote the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. How many of you recall the thrilling speeder-bike chase in RETURN OF THE JEDI, when Luke and Leia are zooming through the forest in pursuit of Imperial Stormtroopers, or Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the first ROCKY film? Those iconic moments in movie history and many others like them were filmed by Garrett Brown, using an invention he created called the Steadicam, which is so ubiquitous today we take it for granted.
In the old days, before Steadicam technology, camera operators were limited to using riggings, tracks, and bulky tripods and dollies, with only pans and or sweeping crane shots to give movies a sense of motion. But after Garrett’s pioneering work on stabilizers, moviegoers could—for the first time—be truly immersed in the action on screen. They could feel the thrill of those high-speed chases. It’s hard to imagine now what movies would be like without the Steadicam. How many millions of young imaginations have been captivated and influenced—truly transported somewhere else, in the way that only movies can do—because of Garrett’s innovation, combined with a compelling story, good actors, and an experienced director?
Movies, after all, truly embody the concept of intellectual property in one of its most spectacular, memorable, and collaborative forms. Every person involved in a movie, from writers and producers to the makeup artists and camera operators like Garrett Brown, works hard to bring a work of art to the audience. And like everyone, they deserve to be paid for their work. Intellectual property rights ensure that the fruits of their labors remain valuable and marketable. But those rights aren’t just about fairly compensating creators—patents, trademarks, and copyrights promote innovation and creativity by encouraging others to come up with new ideas and better ways of doing things, as Garrett Brown did. They facilitate the spread of human knowledge and fuel the inspiration for humanity’s accomplishments. They help us tell new stories and find new possibilities.
For hundreds of years, intellectual property has been the driving force of progress in technology, art, and, culture. This is true around the world. It’s part of our shared human experience, no matter where we come from. Which is why the intellectual property offices of the world—including the United States Patent and Trademark Office—work together to ensure that IP rights continue fostering creativity and innovation.
We are here today because April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day, a tradition that began in 2000 by proclamation of the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Every year since, WIPO and its member states have celebrated World IP Day with activities, events, and campaigns to increase public understanding of what intellectual property really means, and to demonstrate how the IP system fosters not only music and the arts, but also serves as the incentive for creation of all the products and technological innovations that shape the modern world. April 26 is, as many of you know, the birthday of WIPO itself. Like the Cardozo Law School, it is still a relatively young organization. The Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was adopted in 1967 and came into force on April 26, 1970. Thus the selection of this day for World IP Day.
Today, WIPO has 187 member states and administers 26 treaties. The most recent of those treaties was adopted last June in Marrakesh, to facilitate access to published works by visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities. It’s that kind of work that makes WIPO such an important and valuable organization. In addition to facilitating strong IP rights in multiple jurisdictions, WIPO also provides IP capacity building, training, and technical assistance on IP protection and enforcement. Through the WIPO Academy, the organization has trained thousands of officials dealing with IP worldwide, including officials from IP offices, police, prosecutors, judges, and customs officials. Through the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center, WIPO provides alternative dispute resolution services, including domain name dispute resolution. WIPO has committees dedicated to discussing patent, trademark, copyright and traditional knowledge issues. When member states agree that an issue is ripe for an international agreement a diplomatic Conference is convened to adopt a treaty or update a treaty.
In short, WIPO is a force of great good in the world of intellectual property, and while we are here today in honor of World IP Day and movies in particular, we would be remiss not to pay tribute to WIPO itself for the great work it has done, and will continue to do, on behalf of intellectual property worldwide. I want to also congratulate Director General Francis Gurry, who was recently reelected to another six-year term as the head of WIPO. The United States Patent and Trademark Office looks forward to working with Director General Gurry and his team on a number of important matters across the full spectrum of intellectual property.
In the meantime, here at home we must continue to find new and innovative ways to promote the importance of IP to the American public, and especially to our nation’s children. Tapping into the “global passion for movies”—the theme of this year’s World IP Day—is a great start. It’s not only a powerful example of IP, but a tremendously useful means of communication as well. Last year, the USPTO, the National Science Foundation, and NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, launched an 11-part “Science of Innovation” video series to coincide with the 165th birthday of American inventor Thomas Edison.
Narrated by NBC News’ Ann Curry, the series featured innovators from across the country, including scientists and engineers working on projects in industries as diverse as healthcare, energy, transportation, agriculture, and more. “Science of Innovation” looked beyond the popular concept of innovation as the result of a single event or brilliant idea. Instead, it examined the processes and steps that anyone from a garage tinkerer to a federally funded scientist can take to discover new solutions to pressing problems or to add value in new ways to existing products, services, or technologies. Not only was this a clever means of reaching younger audiences, but it was also a great example of federal agencies, industry, and educators working together to demonstrate the connection between IP and the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Was it as memorable as RETURN OF THE JEDI or ROCKY? Probably not. That’s tough competition! But it was a good use of harnessing our global passion for movies to the advantage of IP and STEM education, and the kind of creative public-private partnership that we should build upon. At the end of the day we all have a role to play in educating the public about the importance of IP, and we can do that best by working together, collaboratively and creatively, with a view toward directing that global passion for movies toward a global passion for IP.
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