Meetings held by candlelight. Horse-drawn transportation. Medicine practiced without anesthesia. Why has United States innovation advanced so significantly since the 18th century?
Today’s Zoom meetings, plane travel and biomedical breakthroughs have benefitted from an intellectual property clause in the U.S. Constitution, according to Andrei Iancu, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Iancu presented a keynote address at NUtech Ventures’ virtual Innovator Celebration on Nov. 2, which kicked off Nebraska Research Days.
“The U.S. Constitution guaranteed inventors the rights to their inventions, and for the first time in history, innovation became democratized,” Iancu said. “That was a fundamental change in the way humans approach innovation and creative thinking, and the results have been remarkable.”
However, in the 21st century, patenting activity is unevenly dispersed across the country. Geographically, it remains clustered in coastal regions such as Silicon Valley. Economically, studies have shown that underprivileged communities have significantly lower rates of innovation. And demographically, female researchers have lower rates of patenting than their male peers, according to a study published by the USPTO.
“For the United States to keep competing in an increasingly competitive global environment, we must change this trajectory and expand the innovation ecosystem,” Iancu said. “We can’t keep competing with one hand behind our backs.”
To help address diversity, the USPTO recently launched the National Council for Expanding American Innovation, which is partnering with industry, academic and government leaders to empower future inventors and increase involvement of women and other underrepresented groups. The council aims to identify specific areas for improvement, such as education, employment, patenting or commercialization activities, including access to capital.
“Along this entire innovation pipeline, it is critically important to inspire people from [diverse] communities,” said Iancu. “This is the most tangible, immediate way that we can work together to improve the state of the economy for all Americans and the state of the human condition.”