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 Joyce Ward, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
I have the honor of serving as the Director of the Office of Education and Outreach at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I am fortunate to work with a dedicated, talented, and passionate team of people who believe deeply in the importance of educating, inspiring, and encouraging students and the people who educate them, whether they are teachers, parents, mentors, or members of the community.
Intellectual property (IP)—tangible ideas that can be bought and sold and traded—empowers people and has the potential to change society in ways both big and small. We’ve seen it over and over throughout our history with inventions such as the electric microphone, the artificial respirator, optical fiber, methods for storing blood, and countless other innovations that were developed by people with extraordinary ideas, vision, and sheer tenacity.
The Office of Education and Outreach is charged with developing, augmenting, and implementing education and outreach programming that increases knowledge and awareness of IP among stakeholders, and provides capacity building for future generations of inventors and innovators. To carry out that mission, we develop educational materials, build strategic partnerships, conduct professional development workshops for educators nationally, and provide hands-on experiences for students to help them make the connection between ideas and actualization.
I grew up in rural eastern North Carolina on Highway 58 between Wilson and Greene counties. The entrepreneurial spirit is in my DNA. Both of my parents were small business owners, and my great grandfather, first generation out of slavery, started his own business, which survived for close to 100 years. My father, a teacher by training, started a moving and storage company that evolved into a used furniture and antique shop. He also supported my mother in her business, which morphed from a gas station, convenience store, and used car lot to a restaurant and night club.
I received my undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1991. I got my formal start in the legal field clerking for a judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Following that I served as a Trademark Examining Attorney at the USPTO from 1994 until 2002. I then worked with the National Inventors Hall of Fame, where I supported the development of children’s educational programs, the expansion of the Collegiate Inventors Competition, and provided IP education and counsel to the organization. I returned to the USPTO in 2011. My interest in IP Law and children’s educational programs are what brought me to the USPTO in 1994 and it is what led me to come back to the USPTO in 2011.
While I am not running my own business in the private sector, my job at the USPTO enables me to instill the idea of entrepreneurship and innovation in others, and help students recognize the tremendous potential they have to effect change. Ideas, when acted upon, are powerful, and they have the ability to change conversations, to change communities, to change industry and though it may sound like a cliché, to change the world.