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Remarks at Asia Pacific Patent Cooperation Forum, Alexandria, Virginia

Monday, March 7, 2011

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Asia Pacific Patent Cooperation Forum, Alexandria, Virginia

Thank you for the kind words and for your leadership at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  I want to join Director David Kappos in welcoming everyone. 

This forum is an opportunity to discuss building a better intellectual property infrastructure in an increasingly globalized world.

Over the next few days, our countries can help chart a roadmap for the future in which we have consistent examination standards, reduced backlogs, and higher quality patents.

Here in America, President Obama has made promoting innovation a cornerstone of his economic agenda.

And a responsive, efficient and internationally harmonized patent system is central to that goal.  A single patent has the potential to help:

  • A business attract investment and funding;
  • An industry to produce a life-enhancing medicine or energy technology; and
  • A generation-changing idea to enter the marketplace.

I know that building an effective patent and trademark system is not easy - because over 200 years after its founding, the United States is still working to perfect its own.   

Only a few years after the American Revolution, our third president Thomas Jefferson helped create the U.S. patent office because he understood two fundamental truths.  He knew:

  • That long-term economic growth was dependent on a continuous flow of new technologies and new ideas entering the marketplace;  and
  • He knew that without a promise of ownership protection for these ideas, innovators would never be willing to take risks to improve upon the status quo.

Since joining the Commerce Department, I've been working closely with Director Kappos to help bring the U.S. patent office into the 21st century. 

And I’d like to commend Director Kappos and his team for the great work that they've done.

At the outset of the Obama administration, we had a backlog of 770,000 applications and a three-year wait for patents to be evaluated.

But under the leadership of Director Kappos, management processes have been overhauled, and the application backlog has been cut by 10 percent, even as the volume of applications has increased by seven percent.

Last week, the U.S. Senate started debating a patent reform bill that would give the patent office the tools it needs to significantly expand its reform efforts. 

Among other things, the legislation will allow the patent office to set its own fees – a major part of ensuring that the agency has reliable funding. 

It will enable the patent office to hire more examiners and modernize its IT system so it can process applications more quickly and produce better patents that are less likely to be subject to a court challenge. 

And it would switch the United States to the more transparent, cost-effective First-Inventor-to-File system used by the rest of the world. 

We’re very heartened to see that the Senate affirmed their support for First-to-File late last week because it will provide U.S. businesses a greater opportunity to engage in global commerce.

Congress has been working for a long time on this issue, and there is strong bipartisan support to get patent reform done this year.  So we remain optimistic.

I brought some of that optimism with me today.  I know that patent harmonization also has been a subject of much global discussion – but little progress – for many years.

This forum is an opportunity to move forward. With harmonization, we can:

  • Narrow differences among patent laws;
  • Simplify requirements for applicants; and
  • Reduce legal uncertainty.

This harmonization is even more important in light of the unprecedented numbers of patent applications many of our nations are dealing with.

This is putting unprecedented stress on the world’s IP infrastructure.

Harmonize certain aspects of patent laws will maximize work-sharing to reduce backlogs and pendency - problems all patent offices are facing.

With the new demands of a global marketplace, there is no shortage of innovative ideas.

We have the power to help ensure those ideas move out of the research pipeline and into the marketplace in the form of new products and services that can benefit the world.

We appreciate all of you being here for this important discussion on patent harmonization, and I very much look forward to the results. 

Thank you. And now I will turn the podium back to Director Kappos. . . .