The National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI) includes leaders from industry, academia, government and non-profit organisations who are assisting the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with developing “a national strategy to build a more demographically, geographically, and economically inclusive innovation ecosystem”, 85 FR 83906.  FICPI recently provided comments to the USPTO’s request for input for creating opportunities to expand the “innovation ecosystem to include all individuals, including those from underrepresented socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic groups”.  Id.  

In response to the USPTO’s questions intended to guide the public’s comments, FICPI stressed the fact that the motivation to innovate should be encouraged during the earliest stages of education.  IP professionals should work with school systems to encourage the inclusion of “invention education” in the science curriculum and to promote early STEM education.  Working through their firms, professional associations, and individually, IP professionals can align with schools to provide lectures and webinars about innovation and the protection of inventions, and to provide hands-on learning by being involved in school activities that promote innovation, such as science fairs.  Likewise, IP professionals can align directly with practising teachers as well as those studying to be teachers in undergraduate and graduate programmes by encouraging the incorporation of “invention education” into teaching programmes.

With respect to developing inventors and entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups, FICPI noted that individuals who are not associated with large corporate or education institutions often do not know what patents are, and do not recognise that their inventions might be patentable.  To address this, FICPI suggested that awareness campaigns be directed to those underrepresented individuals, perhaps using already available tutorial videos, with access via a general diversity and inclusion website page.  FICPI also suggested that clinics could be offered where potential inventors would receive a limited number of hours of free consultation on their innovations and how best to protect them and bring them to market.  Organisations (e.g. incubators) devoted to small entrepreneurs do exist, and are often associated with universities or are located in other areas where innovation is occurring.  

The USPTO also noted that there exist barriers to innovation inclusion specific to underrepresented groups, and asked what supporting role government organisations should play in helping underrepresented groups overcome these barriers.  FICPI noted that members of underrepresented groups often do not have the confidence, or the “voice” to take credit for their innovations and express their desire to develop those innovations.  Often, they also do not know how to access investment that would assist them in the development and protection of inventions.  Encouraging these innovators, or potential innovators, to invent, and protect those inventions, is something that should be taught early, and government organisations should find ways to work with schools to educate on these issues and encourage creative minds.

Finally, the USPTO noted that inventors thrive when cultural and institutional barriers within workplaces are minimised or removed, and asked how can organisations remove these barriers to create an inclusive, innovative workplace culture.  FICPI responded that barriers to women and underrepresented populations often occur because these people have additional life responsibilities that take time away from education and/or professional development.  For women attorneys, their ability to get their billable work done and deal with family issues often precludes practice development and networking time.  Law firm management positions generally go to the highest billers, and hence, many women do not make it to the management level.  There needs to be a sharing of family responsibilities for women to be able to advance at the same pace as men.

FICPI’s view and involvement 

FICPI recognises that as a part of advancing its mission to promote the IP profession, it must actively engage with the educational system to encourage and promote “invention education”.  Moreover, FICPI seeks to encourage the inclusion and promotion of underrepresented groups, and recognises that diversity within the FICPI ranks leads to a deeper and richer experience for its members, for the governmental agencies with which it cooperates, and for the clients its members serve.

Next steps

Stay tuned for more information on FICPI’s efforts to make the association and the IP profession in general, more diverse and inclusive.

FICPI is supporting World IP Day on 26th April, the focus this year is on ‘taking your ideas to market’. 
 
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