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U.S. Patent Office Aims to Boost Innovation By Women, Minorities, Invent Together

September 10, 2020

Efforts to encourage innovation by women, underrepresented minorities and people from lower socioeconomic rungs will get a new push from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The agency aims to “expand the American innovation ecosystem” by pulling together venture capitalists, industry titans and educators to create a national strategy, Andrei Iancu, director of the patent office, said in an interview.

The new National Council for Expanding American Innovation is an outgrowth of congressionally-mandated studies that showed white and Asian males dominate as inventors named on patents. Patents are often drivers of new products, help attract investment funding, and can provide a edge over business competitors.

“We are in an increasingly competitive environment — everyone is focused on innovation,” Iancu said. “For the U.S. to maintain our technological edge, we really do need all hands on deck.”

Women made up less than 13% of all U.S.-based patentees in 2019, according to a PTO study released in July. The office is seeking Congressional approval to collect additional demographic information on applicants, but independent studies have found that white inventors are three times as likely to get patents as Black inventors.

Women and minorities are seen as a potential driver of financial growth in the country. Iancu said innovation can be a “great equalizer” to improve the economic conditions of both individuals and communities.

America’s fear of losing its edge over China in areas like artificial intelligence, personalized medicine and telecommunications has been a key driver of the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

The U.S. ranks ninth in the Bloomberg Innovation Index, which scores countries based on dozens of criteria including research and development spending, manufacturing capability, and the concentration of high-tech public companies. That’s down from first place when the index was created in 2013, largely because of lower investment in education and research compared with other countries. China, which started in 29th place, ranked 15 in the index earlier this year.

The council, scheduled for its first meeting on Sept. 14, will identify ways to promote an interest in science and technology among children, encourage investments in small businesses, and expand the geographic map, Iancu said. Most innovation is centered in hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle and North Carolina’s Research Triangle, he said.

The council won’t have the authority to implement policies — it won’t be able to give more money to schools to improve the nation’s education system, for instance. Still, Iancu said the goal is to create a “comprehensive strategy that will be followed through and can have measurable results.”