PUBLIC COVER MEMOS
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Key Considerations for USPTO in the Next Administration
Cover Memo by Justin Hughes
Tracing its history back to the 1790 Patent Act, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO or PTO) is the federal agency for granting patents for inventions – exclusive rights that provide an incentive for private research and development as well as for the commercialization of new technologies. The agency also provides federal registration of trademarks, promoting an integrated national economy in which goods and services are readily identifiable to consumers. Federal law also provides that USPTO “shall advise the President, through the Secretary of Commerce, on national and certain international intellectual property policy issues” and “advise Federal departments and agencies on matters of intellectual property policy in the United States and intellectual property protection in other countries.”
USPTO is among the few federal agencies that is funded by user fees and agency revenue (in the form of patent and trademark application and maintenance fees) closely tracks the overall performance of the U.S. economy.
PTO's mission is “
to foster innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth, domestically and abroad, by providing high quality and timely examination of patent and trademark applications, guiding domestic and international intellectual property (IP) policy, and delivering IP information and education worldwide.”
Beginning with one clerk in the 1803 “Patent Office” of the State Department, USPTO is now an agency of the Department of Commerce with an annual budget in excess of $3.4 billion and over 13,000 federal employees including patent examiners, trademark examining attorneys, computer scientists, policy experts, litigators, economists, and administrative staff. The agency operates from its main campus in Alexandria, Virginia with satellite offices in Dallas, Denver, Detroit, and San Jose as well as “IP attaché” staff in 12 U.S. embassies and consulates.
This document presents key insights from a group of intellectual property experts, most of them USPTO veterans. Observations, proposals, and suggestions presented here were discussed in a workshop setting but are not the result of a consensus process; indeed, some suggestions may be in tension with other suggestions. Many workshop participants supported trying some ideas only in “pilot” form, something that is possible at USPTO because of the size and scope of its operations.
As the next administration begins, perhaps the most basic idea for USPTO is that
intellectual property policy will continue to be characterized by the need to achieve balance. To foster technological progress, the patent system must balance incentives for innovation with access to new technologies. On the trademark side, effective federal protection of trademarks used in interstate commerce promotes a cohesive, efficient national market but must be balanced against the communication needs of new market entrants and free expression generally. Internationally, the U.S. retains a tremendous competitive advantage in ‘information goods,’ an advantage that depends on effective enforcement of intellectual property laws in other jurisdictions. At the same time, U.S. policy—both domestic and international—seeks to improve access to patented medicines as well as dissemination of technologies to address climate change and environmental protection.
Intellectual property policies—including both substantive patent law and USPTO operations—
should do a better job in maintaining and further America’s technological preeminence and, in that way, reinforce Biden Administration initiatives, ranging from enhanced R&D investment to serious and sustained “Buy American” initiatives.
In that context, it is clear that
continued efforts to improve and maintain patent quality will be USPTO’s most important day-to-day contribution to America’s innovation economy. Many of the proposals below address that perennial policy challenge.
Workshop discussants also emphasized the need to make America’s innovation economy —and the opportunity that arises from intellectual property rights—more accessible to all Americans. Some proposals below are aimed at better understanding and/or addressing gaps in innovation economy outcomes correlated with gender, race, ethnicity, veteran status, or sexual orientation.
Finally, as the new administration works to return to collaborative efforts with America’s allies and positive engagement in international institutions, USPTO should lead in
constructive engagement on international intellectual property issues, whether at the World Intellectual Property Organization, in regional fora, or in bilateral relations, including with China.
The varied proposals and suggestions below highlight opportunities for PTO to move forward with a clear charge on Day One.
U.S. Agency for International Development
Key Considerations for Science and Technology at USAID in the Next Administration
As USAID enters the next presidential term, it is important for its future leaders to reflect on recent development challenges and activities of the previous administration that will leave a lasting imprint on the Agency and its role in global development for years to come.
Significant crises continue to permeate developed and developing communities around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic sets the context, wreaking havoc on the world’s health systems, while slowing economic growth and leaving the most vulnerable populations even more vulnerable. The severity and frequency of climate related events are a sign of what’s to come, as countries, institutions and communities worldwide are forced to wrestle with the implications of climate change, creating an even greater need for humanitarian assistance due to increased displacement, forced migration and food insecurity. These issues and other emerging threats exacerbate the wicked challenges presented by the effects of prolonged conflict, idle youth and disruption for many of the world’s most fragile states.
The previous administration’s approach to development issues - and foreign policy overall -relayed incoherent signals to world leaders about the United States’ desires for global development, and more broadly, on its position as a steward and stalwart in the development community. The lingering effects of these decisions (and indecisions) leave many of our allies and partners questioning whether the United States can be trusted and looked to as a future collaborator in the advancement of human and sustainable development.
The next team at USAID enters the agency against this backdrop. Despite the feelings of disrepair, the Agency remains well positioned to reset and support the advancement of the next administration’s foreign policy and global development agenda - with science, technology and innovation at the center of its strategy. The future leaders of the Agency have an opportunity to champion evidence-based solutions, repair global partnerships and advance innovation-driven policy solutions to restore faith in the U.S. as a global partner, while simultaneously rebooting USAID as the premier 21st century global development agency.
Several strategic initiatives of the previous four years influence the direction of the Agency’s priorities as it enters the next presidential term. The introduction of the “Journey to Self-Reliance” offers a vision to build from to galvanize private sector and economic development. The rollout and implementation of USAID’s “Digital Strategy” marked an evolution in the agency’s desire to adapt to the times and deliver new, digitally focused development solutions. These initiatives offer starting blocks to support the future path for science, technology, and innovation policy, and should inform the direction of policies that the next team begins to implement. This transition document aims to complement these existing strategies and offer fresh ideas for catalyzing science, technology and innovation policy as we enter a new presidential term at USAID.
The prevalence of COVID-19 presents a chance for the Agency to capitalize on the moment, reassume a leadership position, and institute a new direction for global health and infectious disease response. To achieve this, the Agency must reset and restore its role as a global partner, and look to rebuild bridges across developing communities, governments and global institutions. Moreover, to truly unlock the power of the Agency and the size, scale and reach of its resources, the next administration must prioritize addressing internal operations and removal of barriers that prevent USAID from functioning as the agile, 21st century global development institution that it needs to be.
The content in the USAID document expands on these priorities, outlining key themes for science, technology and innovation policy, for consideration at the outset of the next term. To support the advancement of these policies, the subsequent sections provide guidance on implementation and insights on how to get things done as the new team enters USAID. The final section offers personnel considerations with a focus on critical science, technology and innovation roles at USAID to support the agenda of the next administration.
The content throughout the document was curated by the Day One Project, and sourced from a community of global development practitioners and former policymakers at USAID and other Federal development agencies.
Federal Communications Commission
Key Considerations for Science and Technology at the FCC in the Next Administration
Cover Memo Prepared by Blair Levin
25 years ago, the public perception of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was largely a function of the Commission censoring radio shock jock Howard Stern. Prior to that, the public image of the FCC developed from people hearing George Carlin’s 1972 comedy bit about “the seven dirty words” you can’t say on TV. A lot has changed in the intervening years. Instead of a focus on content on the broadcast medium, the FCC has become the central policy player in the roll out, and then the convergence, of two technology platforms that barely existed 25 years ago but that today, in their many forms, affect every American every day: wireless and the internet.
Another big change occurred this past March. That is when Covid hit and accelerated the movement to “remote everything.” With that movement, Covid revealed some of our country’s, and the FCC’s, greatest shortfalls. As critical services accelerated their movement to the internet, making it even more essential that commons of collaboration, rural communities could not collaborate because there were not networks connecting them to everyone else. Millions of school kids could not attend class because their homes, like tens of millions of other homes, did not have an in-home broadband connection. The newly unemployed strained to continue to stay online but could not, depriving them access to the resources to retrain and search and apply for jobs are found. Meanwhile, critical services, like being able to apply for unemployment online, without standing in lines and exposing oneself to Covid, crashed, because government networks have not kept up with technology.
These issues are not new, but we need new approaches to address them. And the problems Covid exposed could be greatly reduced if the FCC improved its performance. In these proposals, a number of distinguished FCC alumni and other policy practitioners offer ideas to address those shortfalls.
They start with the goal of achieving universal broadband connectivity. That itself must start with collecting and disseminating better data about the performance and gaps in the Internet Service Provider market and making sure the federal government is coordinated for how obtains such data. It then moves to perhaps the most urgent need; guaranteeing in-home broadband access for school children. The agenda also includes convening all stakeholder to cooperatively work towards improving the process of deploying next generation networks.
But with networks everywhere and everyone one, we still need rules that are fair to all. Here, the experts have mapped out how the FCC can restore its legal authority to oversee the broadband market and assure that net neutrality protects consumers against blocking, throttling and anti-competitive paid prioritization, as well as how the FCC should revisit policies to privacy.
The FCC also plays a key role in allocating and regulating the use of the single most critical input to the wireless market: spectrum. For all Americans, for the economy, and for global leadership, it is critical that the FCC does so wisely. Here, one essay explores how to modernize spectrum management to assure that we don’t have spectrum potholes interfering with our use of the wireless information superhighway. Another addresses how to regulate converged networks and bundled services.
A further role for the FCC is assuring robust competition in communications markets. As these markets evolve and transform, the FCC has to change as well. As one essay explains, there is a need to revamp the FCC’s competition and transactions expertise. The bigger challenge, however, is addressing the increasing dominance of the Big Tech players, whose access to and use of data create new challenges in enabling competition. Those need to be evaluated, as another essay explains, through a National Economic Council task force on digital platform regulation and competition.
Another role the FCC has played is assuring that our country has a healthy information ecosystem. With Covid, the sad lesson is that our news and information systems failed us, providing dangerous volumes of misleading public health information, while only limited amounts of reliable, clear information on how to keep ourselves and our families healthy. The most critical action we can take from a lesson is to actually learn from it. That’s why one essay advocates for a Commission to study how information about Covid in some cases exacerbated, and in other cases mitigated, the public health risks, with the idea that if we can figure out the best way of diminishing harmful noise and elevating helpful signals, the next one—and there will always be a next one—won’t be as bad. Another essay analyzes federal levers to save local news. Still another advocates for reforming the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to Address Racial Inequities and technological change.
Finally, we need the FCC to be an institution that does a better job at defining it goals, communicating with the public, and executing on its mission. A concluding set of essays address those unsexy but critical processes by which the FCC can become more open, transparent and effective.
In the musical Hamilton, George Washington tells the title character that “winning is easy but governing is hard.” The last several decades should have taught the FCC that censorship is easy but regulating networks, spectrum, data platforms, disinformation, among others, to serve the public interest is hard. But it can be done and it must be done a lot better. The ideas in this document offer hope that we can do so, and lays out a map for how to begin.
U.S. Department of Education
Key Considerations for ED in the Next Administration
Cover Memo Prepared by Melissa Moritz
The US Department of Education (ED) oversees the nation’s education system. Our nation is currently battling the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a related economic crisis, a history of systemic racism, and a fundamental lack of trust in our government structures. Our nation’s education system is at the heart of each of these issues. A new administration must prioritize reopening schools safely while making up for lost learning and working to innovate on existing models to ensure our education system becomes a system that truly works for every learner.
ED's mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” ED was created in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. ED has over 4,000 employees and over $60 billion in budget. The essential functions of ED are managing federal financial aid, collecting data on America's schools and disseminating research, focusing national attention on key educational issues, and prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.
There is a delicate balance between what ED can and can’t do. Even though ED oversees the nation’s education system, there are limitations to what the Federal Department of Education can do. In particular, according to statute, ED cannot:
establish schools and colleges;
set requirements for enrollment and graduation;
determine state education standards; or
As the next administration begins, there will be many competing priorities for ED. It will be critical to remain focused on the highest priority issues for the American public. This document draws on key insights from a wide variety of education experts, including from former educators and education leaders to former administration officials and scientific experts, in order to highlight opportunities for ED to move forward with a clear charge on Day One.
I. Responding to COVID-19 and Reinventing the Education System
develop or implement testing to measure whether states are meeting their education standards.
Support Economic Recovery and Opportunity
COVID Response: The current administration’s Education Department has been asleep at the wheel, failing to help states and school districts manage the learning crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and neglecting to use its flexible authorities to drive support to the most at-risk students in STEM. If Federal action is not taken, the pandemic will further exacerbate the inequities for low-income and middle class families.
COVID Reinvention: Educational research methodologies have evolved significantly in the last 20 years but still lag behind traditional R&D that is used to create the digital platforms many teachers, schools, and districts use to facilitate virtual teaching and learning. In the midst of COVID-19 and the shift to virtual and hybrid instructional models, the question in education has changed from “Can this be done online?” to “How quickly can we adapt this to an online setting?” Education R&D is also an area that attracts interest from center-right education organizations, as evidenced by a recent Fordham/CAP issue paper calling for more education R&D funding.
Updating What Kids Need to Know
The economic impacts of COVID-19 have been staggering and will continue to linger for years. ED has tremendous opportunities to utilize funding to provide meaningful workforce opportunities to address the job loss from the COVID-19 pandemic and also improve components of Federal Student Aid to lessen the financial impacts of COVID-19 on the next generation.
Achieving Systemic Equity and Inclusion
While ED does not write or endorse curriculum, ED does play an important role in signalling to the education system and the American public what knowledge, skills and dispositions are critical for students. STEM, Digital Citizenship, and AI are all areas that ED should elevate as critical knowledge and skills for public education.
Lastly, ED is extremely relational. Prioritize building relationships and building shared investment in these ideas. Look to individuals who have already started working on some of the items below across the agency and help to accelerate or elevate their work.
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color and 2020 has also brought an increased awareness of the presence and impacts of systemic racism in our nation. Educators and counselors play essential roles in creating inclusive cultures in their classrooms and schools. A new administration should prioritize ensuring that every child in America has effective educators across all grade levels and subjects, while also expanding college counseling services, and developing initiatives to train educators in culturally proficient practices.