Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
Guest blog by Charles Kim, Director of the Office of Petitions, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
As the Director of the Office of Petitions, I oversee a talented group of petitions examiners, attorneys, and paralegals that review over 45 different types of petitions and issue approximately 40,000 petition decisions per year. By issuing high quality and timely petition decisions, the Office of Petitions supports the USPTO’s strategic goal of optimizing patent timeliness and helps to promote the reliability and predictability of patent rights.
I was born in Seoul, South Korea. My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was four years old. Like many Asian American and Pacific Islander (and other immigrants) parents, my parents sought to provide a brighter future for their children. With limited financial means and even more limited ability to speak English, my parents understood the uncertainties and challenges that lie ahead. However, they believed that providing their children with better opportunities was worth the risk of leaving behind their families and friends, and venturing out into the unknown.
When we first arrived in Queens, New York, my parents only had about $500 and a Korean-English dictionary. Shortly after we arrived, my father found a job at a local grocery store and my mother started working at a clothing manufacturing company. They worked long, hard hours, but eventually saved enough money to start their own business. We moved to New Jersey when I was about ten years old.
After graduating from high school in New Jersey, I attended Rutgers University, where I earned a B.S. degree in electrical engineering. During my senior year at Rutgers, I saw a newsletter on a table as I walking through the hallway in one of the engineering buildings. The front page of the newsletter had the headline, “The USPTO is Hiring Talented Engineers.” I applied, and a couple of months later, I started my first full-time job as a patent examiner examining applications relating to image analysis.
While working as a patent examiner, I obtained my law degree from George Washington University Law School. After graduating from law school, I was selected as a Supervisory Patent Examiner in the Computer Architecture and Software Technology Center. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve on career development details at the Office of Patent Legal Administration and the Office of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. Immediately prior to my current role, I served for two years as a Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy.
One of the biggest motivating factors for me is when I look back and think about the sacrifices that my parents made so that I could have a brighter future. I am determined to succeed so that their sacrifices were not in vain. I suspect that this is not a unique motivating factor for many 1.5 generation Asian American and Pacific Islanders (Note that the term “1.5 generation” refers to people who immigrated to the U.S. as children). And in many ways, this is what Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month means to me. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is an opportunity to reflect on the perseverance, sacrifice, and hard work of the many Asian American and Pacific Islanders that came before me to help build the foundation for future Asian American and Pacific Islander generations to become successful leaders across business and government, and to continue to advance our great nation.
One quote that has had a meaningful impact on my leadership approach is attributed to Peggy Focarino, the former Commissioner for Patents. During her retirement ceremony, Peggy stated that it is important to recognize “Mission First; People Always.” This phrase has stuck with me because it reminds me that regardless of your organization or your title, the one thing that is common (and most important) to all leaders is the people (that they lead).
My advice for those starting their career is to motivate yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. Picture your comfort zone as a circle. If you position yourself slightly outside the circle, your circle (i.e., comfort zone) will eventually grow. By continuing to stay slightly outside the circle, you will experience continuous growth and improvement, which is a recipe for success!