Michelle K. Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO speaks at IFE MTR Dinner

On July 9th, the Institute for Education’s Media and Technology Roundtable had the honor of welcoming special guest speaker The Honorable Michelle K. Lee, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  The dinner was graciously hosted by H.E. Shri Arun Kumar Singh, the Ambassador of India to the United States, and his wife Dr. Maina Chawla Singh.  Game changers and influencers gathered at the exquisite Indian residence to dine and discuss matters relating to intellectual property.  IFE Distinguished Fellow The Honorable Dr. R. David Edelman, Special Assistant to the President for Economic & Technology Policy, The White House, introduced Under Secretary Lee.

Dr. Edelman began by listing the seemingly unending accomplishments and titles Under Secretary Lee has accumulated over the years.  Most memorably, beyond her numerous legal and technical talents, she is a trained ballerina of 16 years.  After receiving a long applause, Under Secretary Lee highlighted the increasing significance of intellectual property in our rapidly changing world.  She made three primary points.    

First, she explained the necessity of obtaining patents, as the value of a company is increasingly measured through intangibles such as algorithms, brands, and ideas.  These can only be protected if patented correctly.  Second, she noted that because companies often do not feel comfortable with or are unaware of the international patent process, they either do not apply at all or only apply for American-specific ones.  One of Under Secretary Lee’s biggest tasks is ensuring that individuals and companies feel ready to begin the patent process and enter international markets.  Lastly, and most importantly, she stressed the importance of engaging younger generations and teaching them the significance of invention and creation.  The lively dinner table discussion began with this last insight.

Reflecting on Under Secretary Lee’s second point, freelance television journalist Jan Smith asked about the substantial cost and maintenance upkeep that accompany the patent process.  How can we avoid marginalizing those with fewer funds?  How can we encourage all demographics equally when obtaining patents is more accessible to those with more money?  Under Secretary Lee acknowledged this perceived weakness in the process, but explained the accommodations put in place to defend against potential unfairness due to economic inequality.  Due to the expensive patenting process, the government has introduced discounts such as the micro entity discount and small entity discount, which can reduce the original cost by up to 75 percent.

Under Secretary Lee believes such discounts will encourage younger generations to apply for patents, even though younger sometimes means less experience and wealth.  She went on to stress that the strength of a country and its economy depends on the creativity and inventions of its young.  Textbooks and classrooms are no longer enough to prepare them, but what is?  How do we teach innovativeness?  How can we cultivate creativity?  Solving these questions is the key to a successful future.

Invention and creativity were the night’s buzzwords.  One program, in particular, was praised for embodying those virtues.  Nate Tibbits, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at Qualcomm, commended IFE’s partnership with the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering to offer a free computer science summer camp, which urges underrepresented youth in the Los Angeles area to learn computer science.  This initiative seeks to disrupt the status quo governing education and demonstrate the need to explore methods outside of the classroom to ensure we cultivate this culture of invention and creativity.  

IFE leaders attending the evening forum were Dr. R. David Edelman (White House), IFE Distinguished Fellow; Ms. Marci Robinson (Robinson Communications), Chair of the IFE Board of Stewards; Mr. Christopher Caine (Mercator XXI), member of the IFE Board of Stewards; Mr. John Paul Farmer (Microsoft); Mr. Nate Tibbits (Qualcomm); Ms. Cheri McGuire (Symantec); Mr. Rob Mahini (Google); and Coach Kathy Kemper, IFE Founder and CEO. 

Contributed by IFE Fellow Christina Kemper Valentine

View: Event Photos | Guest List

Read Bios: Michelle K. Lee | H.E. Arun K. Singh | The Hon. Dr. R. David Edelman

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