Recently, I had the honor to give opening remarks for the Featured SXSW session titled “New Face, New Pace of Innovation” led by USPTO Director Michelle Lee featuring women entrepreneurs in sectors ranging from biotech, big data, energy and personal health analytics. The text below is an excerpt from my speech.
What comes to mind when you hear the word inventor?
Perhaps, Thomas Edison with over 1,000 patents to his credit.
Maybe it’s The Wright Brothers, whose dream of inventing a flying machine spawned a global industry.
We are a country built from invention – game-changing ideas that revolutionized industry and society. This is our foundation, our national heritage.
And what comes to mind when you think about women inventors?
In technology, some might suggest:
- Grace Hopper, also a U.S. Navy Admiral, was a pioneer of computer programming and software design paved the way for modern computing and led the team that invented COBOL.
- Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician, widely regarded as the first computer programmer, who wrote the first algorithm for what became the first computer.
- Margaret Hamilton, a computer scientist and software engineer, who pioneered the on-board guidance software for the Apollo space program.
Yet, there are many American women inventors you might not have heard of:
- Like Bessie Virginia Blount, an African American inventor whose many inventions in assistive technologies and forensic science are still in use today.
- Or Stephanie Kwolek, whose work led to the invention of Kevlar, a synthetic material 5x as strong as steel.
Some find it harder to recall the names of women inventors, perhaps because they are lesser known, but also because of the historical challenges women have faced in becoming inventors. Historically, women inventors have not only struggled to have their inventions recognized but also to obtain the resources needed to achieve commercial success from their inventions. Did you know that women hold only 7% of patents and only 15% of all inventors in the U.S. are women? At this rate, it will take another 140 years for women to obtain parity in terms of granted patents. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s just too long.
An invention is really about following your dreams.
We all have dreams – they aren’t limited to rarefied members of society or a particular race or gender. Dreams are universal.
However, institutional bias has systematically suppressed female invention. Additionally, media narratives and stereotypes of what an inventor should be or should look like have done a great disservice to the vast talents of inventors across all walks of life. When you think about some of the greatest inventions of the last century and how they have transformed our economy and society, in sectors ranging from healthcare to transportation and technology, we are reminded of the value that inventors bring and the critical importance of their diversity of perspective in thinking differently about the world.
In addition to the great efforts that are happening nationwide to increase the pipeline of girls and women in STEM fields, there also needs to be a national campaign to support women as inventors. Not consumers. Creators. Patent holders. So that when a woman has a powerful idea and the expertise to invent something that can change the world, her dream can thrive, and she can be recognized for the value of her invention. Ultimately, a patent represents much more than a novel idea.
Patents are about making your dreams tangible, realizable, actionable and hopefully profitable. Sure, getting a patent can be difficult. The bar is high and the process requires discipline and expertise, and a great deal of hard work. A national campaign to support women inventors would ensure they do not face gender bias every step of the way.
This week we celebrated International Women’s Day, a day to honor and recognize women throughout history that have made profound contributions to society. Everyone in this room has the power to help shape our world for the better and it is time for us to recognize and reward the many contributions that more than half of our population have the capacity and the expertise to develop. When invention is not gendered, society wins. When great inventors can create and realize the value of their inventions, we all benefit.
As an inventor with several patents, I have seen firsthand the role that patents play in helping create value for our industry and my company. I have also seen the effects of some of the process improvements that have been introduced over the last few years by USPTO in helping more entrepreneurs from more backgrounds file and obtain patents.
We have the opportunity right now to accelerate a more diverse and inclusive representation of patent holders in America and change the face of invention forever, and leave a valuable legacy for our shared future.