Guest blog post by Thomas Hong, Primary Patent Examiner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
I am a primary patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I review patent applications within the mechanical engineering technology center, specializing in amusement and education devices. I also serve as president of the Korean-American Intellectual Property Organization (KAIPO), the USPTO’s youngest affinity group, which aims to promote and support the growth and development of Korean-American intellectual property professionals.
It took me more than a decade to reach where I am today. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Seoul National University in South Korea in 1999, I immigrated to America with my family in pursuit of new opportunities.
I continued my studies at Purdue University and obtained a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2004, and my thesis topic related to Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing. This led me to my first career as a software developer with government consulting firms. While it was a good job, I found that it was not the right career path for me. I felt that I rushed into the job and surrendered to the industry’s demands. I felt like I lost sight of my passions and interests and didn’t see myself growing in this field. I decided to change my career path and enrolled at the George Mason School of Law (now known as Antonin Scalia Law School).
As a first generation immigrant, law school was an eye-opening experience for me. I was one of only a few among my classmates holding a college degree from a non-English speaking country. I found myself not only having to develop my fluency in English, but also having to start learning a completely new language: law. While these years weren’t easy, I realized how fortunate I was to have a family and community that was incredibly supportive of me as I pursued my goals and ambitions. Many first-generation immigrants sacrifice these kinds of opportunities for their future generations.
Law school was a turning point for me. It was a time for self-reflection. It was during law school that my mindset began changing from a singular, self-serving view to a more encompassing community view. I looked not only at how I can better myself, but also at how I can better serve and contribute to my community and beyond. I started volunteering for communities I belonged to. I was a marshal at the PGA Tour Tournament, was on the board of directors in my neighborhood’s community group, and served as an officer for the Korean-American Intellectual Property Bar Association (KAIPBA).
I ultimately chose to work for the federal government because, to me, being a career civil servant is a privilege. This unique career gives me an opportunity to serve our biggest community, the public, while simultaneously developing my career and growing as a person.
One of my proudest moments of my time here at USPTO has been working with my colleagues to establish an affinity group for Korean-American professionals at the USPTO: KAIPO. The USPTO’s workforce encompasses multi-generation Asian immigrants, including Korean-Americans, who face unique challenges and have extraordinary knowledge and experiences to pass on. My hope for KAIPO is to connect these different generations so that we can share our unique experiences and help each other grow and develop in our professional and personal lives.
My advice for those who are interested in a federal government career is to continuously strive to learn and develop your competencies, and find your passions. When you find where these align, you begin to find how you can best contribute and serve the public.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time for celebration and a time to recognize contributions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in this country. It was a long journey, spanning two countries, for me to get to this point in my career, and I am proud and honored to be here at the USPTO working in public service alongside so many dedicated and hardworking individuals.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series showcasing the vast and diverse work of Department of Commerce AAPI employees during Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.