Blog post by Jim Alstrum-Acevedo Supervisory Patent Examiner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
I am a Supervisory Patent Examiner (SPE) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). My team and I examine pharmaceutical and biotechnology patent applications. My team includes fifteen skilled examiners who evaluate patents concerning short polypeptides having less than 100 amino acids, compositions containing these polypeptides, and methods of making and using these compounds. Examples of polypeptides include insulin derivatives used to improve the treatment of diabetes mellitus as well as polypeptides with uses as antibiotics effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria, immunosuppresants useful in organ transplantation, and polypeptides to control blood clotting for the treatment of clotting disorders, such as, hemophilia. In short, the patents issued by my team help promote the well-being and health of people all over the country by facilitating intellectual property protection for new peptidic drugs, pharmaceutical compositions, and treatments for chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes) as well as public health concerns, such as bacterial infections caused by methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA).
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia to an American-born father, who was a former Peace Corps volunteer and an aspiring literature and Spanish language professor, and a smart Colombian woman and high school English teacher. My family moved first from the high mesa of Bogotá to Laramie, Wyoming and then to Oxford, Mississippi, before finally settling down in Normal, Illinois. In Illinois, my father was a Spanish language and Colombian literature professor and my mom, after finishing a master’s degree in counseling, was a family counselor. I grew up in an environment that emphasized education, learning and helping others. My parents set a great example for me and my three siblings by their love of books, teaching, and service to others through their chosen professions, and through their work helping out the local Latino community in central Illinois.
Unlike other patent examiners at the USPTO, I am not an engineer. I have a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. For my dissertation, I worked on the synthesis of photoactive inorganic coordination compounds that I appended to organic polymers to obtain an “artificial photosynthetic system.” I did a short post-doctorial and was hired to be a patent examiner at the USPTO in 2005. After a few years of patent examining, I decided to get a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from George Washington University and passed the Virginia bar in 2012. Having a law degree has helped me better understand case law, the positions advocated by applicants’ attorneys during patent prosecution, and to facilitate communication between examiners and applicants.
I am a people person and helping others is something I really enjoy and find rewarding in my job. For example, I am a member and president of the USPTO professional chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, an affinity/employee resource group, which seeks to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education at all levels, provide a sense of family to SHPE members at the USPTO, and help with recruitment of talented Hispanics into STEM-based positions at the USPTO. I am also involved in a local non-profit called Asian American Success (AASuccess), which provides life skills training to Asian American youth, especially from the local Vietnamese community and remotely to a community in Vietnam. AASuccess tries to inspire youth to make giving back a key facet of their lives as they acquire life skills that will help them succeed in their chosen careers.
Hispanic Heritage Month runs each year from September 15 through October 15 and highlights the many contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to our great nation in various areas ranging from science and technology, service in the armed services, and enriching our culture through new creative works, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent musical, Hamilton. This yearly celebration also is a great opportunity to inspire Hispanic youth, who are under-represented in STEM fields, to strive for careers in STEM so they can become tomorrow’s innovators, physicians, and educators who will continue to improve the lives of people all across the world.
My advice for today’s youth interested in a career as a patent examiner or in STEM generally is to follow your passions, believe in yourself, ask questions, and always try to keep learning something new, regardless of where your life path takes you.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Hispanic employees in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15--October 15).