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Spotlight on Commerce: Teresa Rea, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property (USPTO)

Teresa Rea on podium

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of an America Built to Last.

As Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, I work alongside David Kappos in advising the President of the United States, and other members of the Obama administration, on matters relating to Intellectual Property (IP) policy. When wearing my Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) hat, I help oversee the process by which our nation grants IP rights for cutting-edge innovations and technological breakthroughs. By protecting brands and ideas through trademarks and patents, companies are more readily able to attract investments, hire more employees, spur additional research & development, distribute their products in the marketplace and spawn new growth in new industries. Even though I live near our nation’s capital, I’m a mid-westerner through and through! I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, received my JD from Wayne State University, and hold a Bachelors of Science in pharmacy from the University of Michigan.

After graduation, I joined several legal organizations and “Inns of Court” that serve as spirited forums to discuss trends in IP law and I frequently lecture and publish on patent policy.  I’ve also previously served on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. In my previous life, before I started working at the PTO, I was a member of the American Intellection Property Law Education Foundation, which provides opportunities to underserved communities to actively work and develop a career path in Intellectual Property law. I was also on the board of the National Inventors Hall of Fame for 10 years, which honors inestimable inventors throughout time and encourages creativity.

While it certainly has been rewarding to engage various communities in the country about how IP policies are evolving—it has been a privilege to support this administration’s vision to win the future by ensuring that those communities have the tools they need to expand business and technological growth. As President Obama laid out in his State of the Union address, an America Built to Last must be rooted in the continued promotion of R&D and advanced manufacturing growth in the U.S economy. By expediting the innovation lifecycle, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is generating the manufacturing opportunities of tomorrow, today. Through the ongoing implementation of our new patent reform law, we’re making it easier for enterprises of all sizes to fund, develop and protect their innovations and bring them to market sooner. We’re also educating inventors and small businesses on the different IP protection strategies at their disposal in order to help them develop their IP portfolios. By offering support for enterprises to vigorously pursue the research and development necessary to transfer technology from the lab to the marketplace, we are incentivizing the creation of new product lines here in the United States—which subsequently spurs follow-on manufacturing and innovation.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”  I strongly agree that as a nation and individuals, we are the directors of our own lives. As a woman, it is especially important to take your life into your own hands and mold it to become everything you dream or imagine it should be. Take opportunities as they come and make what you can from every experience. Personally, I shaped my education and career to do something that I love.

But more than just reflecting on my own path, to me, Women’s History Month is about celebrating the women who have come before us, and broke ceilings to ensure women today have the opportunities that were once unavailable in the past. Part of that means encouraging women to become entrepreneurs, to invest in their ideas, and to grow the innovations which will prove an essential asset for America’s future.  To this end I have traveled the country and I have spoken on the importance of fostering women’s entrepreneurship, and will continue celebrating that call for women to build and innovate, at an upcoming Women’s Symposium on Monday in Shreveport, Louisiana with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Through these forums, I hope to build a network of support among women to build relationships that both business and personal growth. Such symposia offer an opportunity to learn about patents and trademarks and seek mentorship from other female inventors.

I’m also pleased to note that the USPTO is also holding events to pay tribute to women whose ingenuity has improved our lives. The National Inventors Hall of Fame opened a new exhibit highlighting women inventors and the USPTO is also working towards instituting a program to be able to track the gender of patent applicants. Highlighting our past is imperative to encouraging our future—and that’s what this month is all about. And even if the official celebration ends on March 31st, I encourage all of my colleagues, men and women alike, to continue thinking about the strides we can make to make our workforce more diverse, more equitable, and more innovative to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

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