Remarks by Director Iancu at the Eastern District of Texas Bar Association Inaugural Texas Dinner
This post originally appeared on USPTO.gov on October 18, 2018.
Remarks delivered at the Eastern District of Texas Bar Association Inaugural Texas Dinner
Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu
October 18, 2018
As prepared for delivery
Good evening everyone, and thank you, Scott (Murray) for that introduction.
I’d like to thank the Eastern District of Texas Bar Association for inviting me to speak with all of you tonight. It’s such an honor for me to be here. Over the years, I had many cases—and so many great memories—in this district, in its courts, in front of its judges, and alongside (and adverse to) its local lawyers.
And it is especially great to be here in the heart of “Cowboy Country,” in this amazing venue. Having gone to UCLA as an undergrad in the 1980s, at a time when we were led by Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys have a special place in my heart. Us Bruins will always take pride in getting him ready for his career with the Cowboys!
But frankly, no matter what your favorite team is, I suspect it would be very hard to tour this magnificent stadium, as many of us did earlier, and not leave tonight a fan. Just look at where we are sitting right now. How many people can say that they had dinner right here, in this world-class, state-of-the-art-facility that serves as a venue for many of our nation’s largest sports and entertainment events?
This is a real-life fairy tale.
But tonight, I’d like to tell you another fairy tale. A darker tale! And because this is such a fun venue, and because it is a bit late in the evening, we will try something slightly different—yet critically important to our patent system.
You all know this tale:
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away… There was a lovely little girl. She lived in a peaceful village at the edge of a scary forest. Everyone loved the little girl, and she was especially close to her grandmother.
Her grandmother made her a red cape, and, as you all know, the little girl loved it and wore it so much that she became known as “Little Red Riding Hood.”
One day, Little Red Riding Hood decided to go visit Grandma. But Grandma did not live in the peaceful village. Instead, she lived in a small cottage in the scary woods. So, as Little Red Riding Hood set on her way, her mother cautioned: “Go straight to Grandma’s house. Don’t dawdle along the way, and—whatever you do—do NOT go off the path! The woods are dangerous.”
But after entering the woods and noticing some flowers along the way, Little Red Riding Hood made a big mistake in forgetting her mother’s admonition. She left the path and picked a few flowers, watched butterflies, listened to the frogs croaking and then picked a few more.
And then she encounters a stranger. At this point, Little Red Riding Hood makes her second big mistake: she begins to speak with the stranger, who just happens to be a Big Bad Wolf.
Then she makes a third big mistake: she reveals Grandma’s address. So the Big Bad Wolf runs ahead of her, goes to Grandma’s house, pretends to be a friend, gets into the house, then eats Grandma.
When the little girl arrives at Grandma’s house, she sees the wolf but thinks it’s Grandma because he disguised himself.
And the little girl says—as you all know—“Why Grandma, what big eyes you have!”
“All the better to see you with, my dear!”
And, “What big ears…”
And, “Why Grandma, what big teeth you have!”
“All the better to eat you with, my dear!”
Then, the Big Bad Wolf proceeds to eat Little Red Riding Hood.
It’s a tragic, horrible story.
In medieval times, before the Brothers Grimm retold it with a happy ending, the story ended there, with both Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma eaten. A complete tragedy, and absolute disaster.
Still, to this day, this remains a very popular fairy tale. But what’s the real meaning of it?
There are actually many meanings that people banter about, but the crux of the story, in my view, is that little children growing up in medieval villages must stay in the village. Do not venture into the woods, and if you do, for Heaven’s sake, don’t take any risks. Don’t speak with strangers. And most importantly, don’t wander off the path! Keep your head down, and stay in your lane! Because if you don’t, all disaster breaks loose and you might get devoured by the Big Bad Wolf.
Now, this may have been an appropriate lesson for Europeans in the Middle Ages, but what’s surprising is to witness this type of message being delivered nowadays, in 21st century America, with respect to innovation and intellectual property protection.
As you all know, for many years now the dialogue surrounding IP has devolved into a discussion about—shall we say—scary monsters? You know, the green creatures that dwell under bridges or lurk in the forests and are poised to terrorize anyone who dares take the risk of venturing out into the innovation ecosystem.
The goal of this narrative is the same as that of stories such as Little Red Riding Hood: don’t leave the village. Don’t take risks. Stay in your lane! Because if you do take risks, if you do have the gall to get out of your lane, you may encounter big bad wolves or other scary monsters. And horror of horrors, you may encounter “patent trolls!”
What an odd message to deliver in the 21st century. What an odd message to deliver in America in particular, a country of risk-takers, entrepreneurs and inventors. An odd message indeed, especially given the incredible success of the American patent system over time.