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Black History Month: Advocating for and Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the USPTO

By James O. Wilson, Assistant Regional Director of the Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

I entered the Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in January of 1989. I was hired and inspired by one of the first African American female examiners in the examining corps, Mrs. Johnnie Brown. I have loved the ability to engage, support, and nurture relationships with colleagues of different ages, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds. As a performance-based organization, I feel the USPTO provided me the opportunity to advance on the strength of my performance and dedication to fulfilling the goals set before me. I examined patents for 14 years in the biotech and pharmaceutical arts before becoming a supervisory patent examiner. As a supervisor, I worked diligently to maintain a diverse, high-functioning art unit. Service, fairness, and support for my colleagues has served as the foundation for my career.

A Look Back

Born in the early 1960s, I am truly a product of the late 20th century. I started elementary school at the end of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, and I watched the Vietnam War casualty numbers reported on the news at dinner time every night. My public-school education in a “post-civil rights movement era” included being bussed to elementary and middle school where I developed relationships with friends from divergent backgrounds.

My college career started at “The Mecca” of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1980. There, I developed a strong sense of self identity and established the foundation for the goals for my life. I pledged a Black Greek Letter Organization, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., whose motto “manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind” has become indelibly ingrained in my mind, heart, and spirit. A year after graduating from Howard, I entered the University of Michigan where I received my Masters of Science degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology. That same year, I was hired to work in a biotech lab that supported the work of Dr. Anthony Fauci, where I sequenced and isolated pieces of the HIV genome that were made available to his lab for testing.

Opportunities at the USPTO

In March of 2017, I returned to Michigan and accepted a detail position in Detroit at the USPTO’s Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office as a resource supervisor, helping new examiners understand their role and responsibilities. That first year, I agreed to serve as the acting assistant regional director, and when the regional director moved on from the office, I assumed the role of acting regional director for over a year. As the current Assistant Regional Director. I am so fortunate to work with a team whose goals include engaging and serving minority, women, and veteran intellectual property stakeholders. I appreciate being an active participant in making a difference in the intellectual property ecosystem, and educating and engaging diverse citizens throughout the Midwest and this great country.

In 2022, I had the honor and responsibility to serve the Midwest Regional Office of the USPTO as the point of contact for a contract with the Urban Alliance in the USPTO IP-skills work-based learning program. This was the first year the regional office participated in this work-based learning program for high school seniors in Detroit. Our office performed so well that Urban Alliance recognized us as the workplace partner of the year. Additionally, I was recognized as the mentor of the year for the Midwest region, and the intern I mentored, Malachi Harris, was recognized as the intern of the year for the Midwest. I share this recognition with the USPTO’s Office of Education and the dedicated Midwest Regional Office staff who provided amazing support. The 2023 Urban Alliance cohort has started and is in full swing. I look forward to the promise of another successful year at the best place to work in the federal government.

I am honored to have this opportunity to share my experiences and my unique American journey during Black History Month. Black History Month, which grew out of “Negro History Week” and was advocated for and supported by prominent African Americans, most notably Carter G. Woodson, pays tribute to the Black experience in America. For me, Black History Month spotlights the triumphs, trials and traumas of a people woven into the fabric of American culture. We must continue to recognize the educators, clergy, entertainers, athletes, George Floyds, Michael Browns, Ahmaud Arberys, and Breonna Taylors of the Black community. I am proud to work for an agency that purposefully celebrates diversity monthly and celebrates, reflects, and recognizes all Americans. My perspective is deeply rooted in my belief that all people from diverse backgrounds should be celebrated and recognized equitably and inclusively. I have advocated for and continue to support the diversity, equity, inclusion, and access efforts by the USPTO and the overall Department of Commerce mission. I know that Black history is American history. 

This blog post is part of a series showcasing the diverse African American leaders from across the U.S. Department of Commerce in honor of Black History Month. 

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