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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Apollo 50: The Role of Intellectual Property in Space Commerce


Introduced by USPTO Director Andrei Iancu.

Thank you, Andrei, for that kind introduction.

I am always happy to be at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and especially to celebrate the technology impacts of our greatest milestone of space. To those of you in the room who were part of the Apollo program — the astronauts, engineers, program managers, technicians — congratulations and thank you for everything you have done for your fellow citizens. That half-century sure did go by fast. But the majority of Americans were not even alive for the Moon landing. 211.6 million Americans were born after 1969. So, for 65 percent of the country, Apollo is ancient history, and the scratchy, analog audio-video technology makes it look ancient.

Today, we have entered a new space age, driven by  entrepreneurs who have galvanized young engineers, scientists, and technologists with their vision for commercializing new space technologies. We witness with awe the infectious reactions of those involved with designing and building rockets as they are launched, and return back to Earth. Just yesterday, I was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a ribbon cutting of the new OneWeb small satellite manufacturing facility.

It looks more like a laboratory than a traditional factory; and it is ruthlessly efficient. It wasn’t long ago, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle, that the space industry was shutting down. But today, companies like OneWeb are mass-producing hundreds, even thousands, of small satellites, and they are being launched into orbit by private companies. Soon, every human on the planet will have access to the Internet, thanks to constellations of satellites that will provide full-earth coverage every second of every day.

Space is a growth industry, and it is exceedingly important to the U.S. economy. The Space Foundation reported last week that global space revenues hit the $414 billion mark in 2018. And it is well on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar industry. There is a new space race among the 80 countries that have targeted the industry. It is more important than ever before for the United States to lead this industry.

Protecting the intellectual property of new space companies, entrepreneurs, inventors, and individuals is essential for U.S. success. Space is benefitting from innovative cost cutting at the same time as impressive technological breakthroughs. The whole concept of space technology is being reinvented.

The people on the leading edge of this global competition are the examiners and employees of the USPTO. Thank you for your critical role in processing the ever-increasing numbers of patent applications, while maintaining and improving both pendency and quality of the examinations. You provide inventors with the protections they need to commercialize their technologies, create companies, hire employees, and put people, satellites, manufacturing plants, and tourists into space.

This fledgling industry is also sparking the imagination of young people, just as the Apollo program earlier, and inspiring a new generation of workers skilled at digital technologies, programming, science, engineering and math. New space technologies extend well beyond the space industry. The Apollo program generated new and improved products such as sensing devices, cat scanners, cordless tools, cameras, shock absorbers, fireproof clothing, scratch resistant lenses, vacuum seals, water purifiers, and many, many others. The technologies licensed from NASA’s patent portfolios touch many industries: robotics, electronics, IT, software, manufacturing, medicine and biotechnology.

I am honored to work with NASA Administrator Bridenstine on implementing President Trump’s Space Policy Directives as members of the re-invigorated National Space Council. The goal is an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners, to enable human expansion of the solar system. This will take a collaborative effort among industry, government and academia, which is why today’s event is so important.

We must work together for mankind to take another giant leap forward. Thank you, everyone, for helping humanity take that final leap.



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