On September 14, 2020, the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI) had its inaugural meeting. It slated several events for this year to start pushing towards fostering a more inclusive innovation ecosystem. The goal of the NCEAI is to develop a long-term and comprehensive plan for expanding participation in America’s innovation ecosystem among women, minorities, other underrepresented, and geographically. The strategy aims to promote innovation starting at the lowest levels (as early as kindergarten) and up to graduate-level programs and industry.

As part of its first round of events, the NCEAI hosted an “Innovation Chat” with the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Andrei Iancu, and Lisa Jorgenson, who was recently appointed as Deputy Director-General for Patents and Technology of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Before starting at WIPO, Jorgenson served as Executive Director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA). The event initially took place on Tuesday, January 12, 2021, but there is a recording on the USPTO’s website (here). I have summarized the discussion below.

Introduction by Andrei Iancu

Director Iancu began the discussion by addressing the oft-shared studies that the USPTO has been releasing in the past few years about inventorship diversity. “We know from all sorts of data” that folks in the innovative industries fare better, including in job satisfaction and economically. Companies that are in IP-intensive industries do better on average than those that are not. Despite knowing all of these things, innovation in the United States is highly concentrated (geographically, demographically, and in other ways). For instance, the participation of women as inventors in U.S. patents is lower than that of men. In 2019, a study showed a female inventor rate of 13%. The mission of the NCEAI is to change that. Andrei Iancu stressed the critical importance of the initiative.

How was the Council of NCEAI Constructed

Lisa Jorgenson then asked Iancu about the construction of the NCEAI’s Council. He responded that the council’s effectiveness required an “all hands on deck” approach, including the government, industry, academia, and non-profits. For this reason, members of the council include government officials, CEOs of tech companies, members of the academic community, and non-profits such as the AIPLA (of whom Lisa Jorgenson is a member).

WIPO’s Role in Promoting Innovation Diversity

Next, the group discussed Lisa Jorgenson’s appointment as Deputy Director-General for Patents and Technology of WIPO. Jorgenson was asked about WIPO’s role in increasing diversity within the innovation community. She pointed out two aspects of WIPO’s efforts: internally identifying opportunities for women to have roles inside the organization and externally to influence member-states and other organizations’ actions and behaviors. She discussed the name-dictionary initiative, which was created to identify women inventors listed on patents. Specifically, the data can identify the diversity of inventors in different geographic regions and technology spaces. She noted the inherent difficulty in name analysis and the amount of room for improvement in the space.

Iancu noted the difference in diversity internationally and asked Jorgenson how we may leverage that data to diffuse success in one region to the rest of the world. Jorgenson discussed the importance of creating consistent policies for data dissemination and discussions. She noted several international efforts that took the initial data as a starting point for further research and efforts. Iancu agreed and stressed the importance of WIPO as a convenor and disseminator of foundational knowledge and specific efforts that have worked on a smaller scale.

The Innovation Pipeline

Iancu then discussed the discrepancy between women with STEM positions and the listed inventors. He observed that while women hold 25% percent of STEM positions in the country, they still only get listed at a rate of 13%. Jorgenson noted that the progress made leads to further upticks in the rated of listed inventors as the numbers of STEM positions increase.

Iancu discussed his own experience moving to the United States from Romania and the opportunities he found stateside. He reiterated the aspects of the American Dream that provide levers for diversity. Lisa Jorgenson discussed her background working for STMicroelectronics and how formative it was for her to travel the world and benchmarking the best practices for diversity worldwide. Specifically, she talked about bringing women from the engineering world to the IP Department, where they ultimately became patent attorneys, and how much that impacted the innovation process’s diversity.

Iancu noted the importance of having role models like Jorgenson in positions of power in the industry. He acknowledged that she had been listed as a named attorney on 5,193 patents. The presenter displayed the cover page of Jorgenson’s first patent of record, which she quickly noted was directed to an “SRAM” (a static random-access memory device). Iancu joked about the prolific use of “wherein” clauses in the claim set, which have since been given less patentable weight by the USPTO (a topic of discussion for a different day).

The Role of Governments and Agencies in Promoting Diversity

The next question for Iancu and Jorgenson was on the role of the public sector to promote innovation. Jorgenson stressed the importance of the government working “side-by-side” with industry and the importance of getting the message out to children at an early age. She noted the influence that programs designed to teach kids about the importance of innovation can be long-term.

Iancu stressed the importance of being specific when setting goals for these kinds of programs and his belief that giving students a grounding in STEM is not enough. He specifically discussed innovation-related studies in the curriculum to teach kids about intellectual property at an early age. He gave a specific story about a year-long program for kindergartners in the Capital region that had such a program, and how they were screaming, “I want to be an inventor when I grow up!” as he was leaving the school.

Iancu then noted that government alone does not have the power to do everything. While they can convene folks and provide incentives, the work of industry, academia, and non-profits are critical in moving things forward. Jorgenson agreed and stressed the importance of educating senior management about the benefits on revenue, the bottom line, to bring them on board with the plan. Iancu reiterated his point about being specific in goals and actions that we take to get more people on board at each stage in the chain to avoid losing gains along the way. He noted that specific metrics of enforcing accountability is critically important in “getting beyond the talk.”

Jorgenson talked about the specific committees within the AIPLA that are crucially important (the Diversity Committee and the Women in IP Committee) to get the message out and engage and keep people within the system. Not only is it directed to providing women with support in their IP careers, but AIPLA also brings men into the system to find ways to help women either through mentorship or advocacy programs.

Jorgenson noted that the international diversity brought about by broad participation in the AIPLA led to companies finding diverse candidates for their areas of needs and gave them access to unique and critical skillsets (she discussed a specific example about hiring a Chinese patent attorney while at ST Electronics). She talked about the benefits of having a “diversity of thought” and best practices brought about by that hiring.

Conclusion: Getting Involved in the Efforts

The discussion wrapped up with a question about how to get involved with the efforts to increase diversity. Iancu talked about speaking up and making a specific commitment to devote time and effort to get out and discuss IP with local schools and the rest of the community. Jorgenson talked about the importance of being a mentor and its impact on getting people involved.

The conversation certainly got me excited about finding ways to get involved so that we, as a patent community, can keep the ball rolling in the effort. It is critically important for us to engage in the NCEAI’s mission because, as Iancu said, the government can only do so much. I will continue to follow along with the rest of the year’s events and keep readers updated to help play my part in spreading awareness. If you have any other questions about the organization, here is the NCEAI’s resource page.