Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee Shares Perspectives on STEM Education and Careers in the 21st Century

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Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee Shares Perspectives on STEM Education and Careers in the 21st Century

June 01, 2015

Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee and the State Intellectual Property Office Deputy Director General Zhang Peng spoke at the Columbia Global Centers | East Asia on May 25 about education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Their talks highlighted common themes and was co-sponsored with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Alum Mark Cohen, Columbia Law School ’84, helped bring the event to the Beijing Center.

In her speech, Peng noted that as China was becoming an innovation-driven economy, Chinese people highly value education in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. By saying “Whether we’re Chinese or American, we all take for granted today that innovation is a good thing. And we take for granted that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are the tools that make innovation possible.”

Lee echoed Zhang’s remarks in her discussion of the origin, development, and expectation of STEM education and careers in the United States. As the first woman (and the first Chinese-American) to reach her position in the U.S. government, she serves as a principal advisor to President Obama and provides leadership and oversight to a large federal agency.  Lee studied electrical engineering and computer science at M.I.T. and later became one of the most influential women in Silicon Valley after earning a law degree from Stanford. Prior to her current position, she spent most of her professional career advising some of the country's most innovative companies, such as Google, on technical, legal and business matters. Her academic background and professional achievements led to her being named a 2015 Washingtonian Tech Titan by Washingtonian Magazine, D.C.’s Top 50 Women in Tech in 2015 by Fedscoop, and Best Bay Area IP Lawyer in 2012.

According to Lee, curiosity is the fountain of innovation. Through a lively talk filled with history and anecdotes, Lee illustrated her ideas by invoking Zheng He, Benjamin Franklin, Edith Clarke and Elizabeth Holmes, to describe how curiosity fuels innovation. The innate curiosity that her five-year-old daughter and other youngsters displayed at “Camp Invention” demonstrated to Lee the commitment that her office must make to ensure all inventors, regardless of age, enjoy the protection of intellectual property as they create and invent. Lee noted that curiosity, not gender, drives innovation.

Meanwhile gender diversity can be seen in her office's senior leadership. In corporate executive offices across the United States, fewer than 15% are women while women hold nearly 40 percent of senior executive positions at the USPTO. The need for supportive efforts for recruiting and retaining women in STEM positions was reiterated by Joan Kaufman, the director of Columbia Global Centers | East Asia and the moderator of the session. Peng noted that 60 percent of senior positions in her agency are held by women, which impressed Lee.

 

(Contributed by Echo Su; Edited by Eyra Xiong)

Related Links

Read the Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at Columbia Global Centers | East Asia: http://www.uspto.gov/about-us/news-updates/remarks-director-michelle-k-lee-columbia-global-centers

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