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Blog Entries from February 2013

Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Willie May, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and Principal Deputy, NIST

Dr. Willie May, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and Principal Deputy, NIST

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Willie May, Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and Principal Deputy, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Sometimes even the most difficult circumstances lay the foundation for very positive outcomes. I grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It goes without saying that any aspirations for becoming a scientist and  a senior leader of a world class scientific agency with a $1 billion dollar budget and four Nobel Prizes would never have occurred to me. 

But like most people I had some advantages hidden among the more visible obstacles to success.Advantage number one: my mother and father. They made sacrifices for me and my two younger sisters and expected us to rise above our surroundings and  go to college. I was also expected to get good grades even though in my community it was more important to be a good athlete than it was to be a scholar. I actually was able to do both.

Advantage number two: I had excellent, smart, and very committed teachers. Opportunities were limited for people of color in mid- 20th century Alabama. Most African Americans like me were laborers in the mines and steel mills. Professional jobs were teacher, preacher, lawyer, doctor and undertakers; and their client base was limited to the black community. The best minds of my neighborhood went to college and became teachers. And they came back to teach us everything they possibly could.  

In my case that included college-level chemistry in high school. Mr. Frank Cook, my high school chemistry teacher, selected five of us for his own experiment. Starting in 10th grade he taught us the same material he had learned just the summer before at Alabama A&M University. That head start gave me the confidence I needed for college. Besides me and my lifelong friend, Marion Guyton (former Attorney with the Justice Department), others who benefitted from  these highly regarded public school teachers include  former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski, chief of the Census Bureau’s Statistical Research Division, Tommie Wright and  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president, Shirley Jackson. 

Advantage number three started with heartbreak. Guyton and I were always competing with each other. As high schoolers, we both applied to Howard University, the Harvard of the black community. Marion got a full scholarship and he was more than happy to flaunt and badger me about it. When no letter came for me, I inquired about my application. It was nowhere to be found.  I later learned from my principal, R.C. Johnson (Colin Powell’s father-in-law) that the application had been lost in his office. To make up for the error, he personally arranged for me to get a scholarship to Knoxville College.

Spotlight on Commerce: Tené Dolphin, Chief of Staff, Economic Development Administration

Tené Dolphin

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Tené Dolphin, Chief of Staff, Economic Development Administration

February is always a special time for our nation to remember the contributions of African Americans, but I never limit my celebration of Black History to just one month. As a child growing up in the historically rich city of Philadelphia, I learned about the men and women who made remarkable contributions to not only our community, but to our country and to the world. Certainly the significance of the election of the first African American President of the United States is particularly noteworthy during this time of reflection and introspection. I am filled with pride and deep emotion when I recall the struggles and triumphs of the past, and observe the advances we continue to make together as Americans.

Over the last four years, I have served in two leadership positions within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today, as Chief of Staff at the Economic Development Administration, I am encouraged by how Commerce’s priorities align with the administration’s goals and by how we are uniquely positioned to play a significant role in implementing the president’s economic agenda to put more Americans back to work and invest in the industries of the future that will increase our nation’s competitiveness. In my role, I work to lead program operations, staff development, and other general management efforts. I routinely serve as management liaison for agency labor management council, departmental labor management council, other Commerce bureaus, federal agencies, and the White House. 

Commerce’s USPTO Joins NSF and NBC Network in Launching Educational Series on Innovation

Science of Innovation banner

The U.S. Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) joined the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NBC Learn today in launching an 11-part “Science of Innovation” series to coincide with the 165th birthday of American inventor Thomas Edison. The program represents the latest intellectual property (IP) education efforts by the USPTO and serves as a public-private partnership leveraging the best strengths of federal agencies, industry, and educators to demonstrate the connection between IP and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Narrated by NBC News’ Ann Curry, the series features innovators from across the country, including scientists and engineers working on projects in industries as diverse as healthcare, energy, transportation, agriculture, and more. “Science of Innovation” looks beyond the popular concept of innovation as the result of a single event or brilliant idea. Instead, it examines the processes and steps that anyone from a garage tinkerer to a federally-funded scientist can take to discover new solutions to pressing problems or to add value in new ways to existing products, services or technologies.

“The USPTO has promoted the progress of science and invention since 1790,” said Teresa Stanek Rea, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Acting Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “Education is the key to encouraging today’s children to become tomorrow’s innovators. These videos and lesson plans are great tools for teachers everywhere to help students learn about intellectual property, while inspiring them to connect the process of innovation with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.”

Segments feature innovators working on cutting-edge innovations, including bionic limbs, biofuels, anti-counterfeiting devices, and 3-D printing. A full list of videos can be found online at http://www.nbclearn.com/innovation/

Spotlight on Commerce: James Smith, Chief Administrative Patent Judge

James Smith, Chief Administrative Patent Judge

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest post by James Smith, Chief Administrative Patent Judge, United States Patent and Trademark Office

It is my privilege to serve as Chief Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I was appointed to the position in May of 2011 by then Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. Prior to taking this position I served as the Chief Intellectual Property Counsel for Baxter International, a Chicago-based healthcare company that develops medical devices and treatments for a wide range of human medical conditions. At the company, I led the part of its operations concerned with its patent, trademark and copyright matters. In the current role at the Board, I am part of – actually lead -- a 300-person team, which includes about 170 administrative patent judges who hear appeals from decisions in which the USPTO denies patent rights to applicants. The Board also hears trials which resolve disputes between patent owners and other parties seeking to have patents revoked. All of our cases bring some element of closure to outstanding patent legal issues, thus helping advance the use and protection of inventions in the United States. Our mission is squarely centered on helping innovative businesses bring about an America with great well-being for all.

For me, taking the position at the USPTO allowed me to return to Washington, DC, after being away for more than 20 years. I grew up in DC, and was a big beneficiary of the many educational things it had to offer, such as its historical sites, museums and wonderful cultural offerings. My parents, who taught in the area schools for decades, made regular use of Washington’s cultural richness in their wider instruction of all three of their children. They were big proponents of education, and always insistent that their children learn and appreciate history, including by knowing of the substantial contributions of African-American citizens to the development of our country.

U.S. Recognizes Another Year of Export Growth

Bar chart: U.S. exports in millions

Guest blog post by Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and Mark Doms, Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs

Last year was another record-setting year for U.S. exporters.

Data released today shows that in 2012, American exports totaled $2.2 trillion, eclipsing the previous record of $2.1 trillion in exports in 2011.

This represents more than just numbers on a spreadsheet; it’s further proof that “Made in the USA” products are in demand all over the world.  It also means that more U.S. businesses are seizing the great opportunities in the global markets, continuing to help pave our nation’s road to economic recovery. 

The increase in U.S. exports in both goods and services continues an upward trend that began in 2009. This trend has contributed to the creation of 6.1 million American private-sector jobs during the last 35 months. It is a direct result of President Obama’s National Export Initiative, part of a government strategy to strengthen our economy, support the creation of American jobs, and ensure long-term growth.

New Smart Phone App Lets Public Report Rain, Hail, Sleet and Snow to NOAA

New Smart Phone App Lets Public Report Rain, Hail, Sleet and Snow to NOAA

Public reports will aid weather research

It’s now easier than ever to be a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather research. The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, in partnership with the University of Oklahoma, has launched a free app for users to anonymously report precipitation from their Apple or Android mobile device.

With the mPING app,anyone can send a weather observation on the go. The user simply opens the app, selects the type of precipitation that is falling at his or her location, and presses submit. The user’s location and the time of the observation are automatically included in the report.

All submissions will become part of a research project called PING – Precipitation Identification Near the Ground. NSSL and OU researchers will use the mPING submissions to build a valuable database of tens of thousands of observations from across the United States.  Full press release

Help America’s Businesses by Becoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow

Presidential Innovation Fellows logo

Guest blog post by Dennis Alvord, Executive Director of BusinessUSA

Today is a very exciting day for American businesses because the Administration has just launched Round 2 of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.  This high-profile White House-sponsored program brings top innovators, entrepreneurs, and change agents into government for 6-12 months to develop game-changing solutions that benefit the American people in all kinds of ways – saving lives, saving taxpayer money, and helping to fuel job growth. 

Under the BusinessUSA initiative, the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration are pleased to support the MyUSA presidential innovation fellow project that helps American businesses access the information and services that will help them grow, hire American workers, and export to foreign markets.

Building on the work of the inaugural class of Presidential Innovation Fellows, motivated by President Obama's call for a smarter, leaner government, and inspired by innovative models of collaboration in the private sector, the Round 2 MyUSA Fellows will take government customer service to a new level. In particular, small businesses and exporters have a fundamental problem navigating the Federal Government’s myriad resources.  It can be difficult to locate information about government assistance programs or find and complete the correct forms for taxes or business operations.  MyUSA is working to solve these problems.  The project team will build and beta-test new features and tools for entrepreneurs and businesses with the purpose of cutting red tape, increasing efficiency, and supporting American businesses and American jobs.

Deputy Secretary Blank Joins President Obama in Honoring National Medal of Technology and Innovation Winners

President Barack Obama presents Dr. Frances H. Arnold (left), California Institute of Technology, the Medal of Technology and Innovation for her pioneering biofuels-related research that could eventually lead to the replacement of pollutant-causing material.

Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank joined President Barack Obama Friday, February 1 at a White House ceremony honoring the recipients of the 2011 National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation. These medals are presented each year by the President of the United States.

The Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) administers the National Medal of Technology and Innovation honoring those that deliver technologies that are changing society and improving the quality of life. The National Medal of Technology and Innovation is this country’s highest award for technological achievement.

The medal is awarded annually to individuals, teams, companies or divisions of companies for their outstanding contributions to America’s economic, environmental and social well-being. By highlighting the national importance of technological innovation, the medal also seeks to inspire future generations of Americans to prepare for, and pursue technical careers to keep America at the forefront of global technology and economic leadership.

Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank Visits Washington, D.C. Auto Show

Deputy Secretary Blank Inspects a Display Model at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show

Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank visited the Washington, D.C. Auto Show. While there, she visited various exhibits including Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, GM, Honda, and Volkswagen. At each exhibit, Blank spoke with representatives of each car maker and “kicked the tires” of the models on display.

Many of the Commerce Department’s bureaus support the auto manufacturing industry. For example, the International Trade Administration works hard to increase exports of domestically-produced autos and auto parts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has numerous ongoing partnerships with automotive manufacturers and their suppliers on advanced technologies, such as alternative fuel sources, advanced materials and automation. NIST also provides advanced measurements, standards, and calibrations for the manufacturing of vehicles and for the automotive components themselves. To improve the next-generation of automotive safety, NIST works with automobile manufacturers and suppliers to provide the underlying measurement infrastructure.

Since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, the American auto industry has added more than 290,000 jobs – the best growth since 1997 and U.S. passenger vehicle sales reached approximately 14.4 million units in 2012, up 13.4 percent from 2011’s 12.7 million, marking the highest level since 2007.