Offering a helping hand — Ex-head of US Patent and Trademark Office...

Offering a helping hand — Ex-head of US Patent and Trademark Office assists Saudi students register their patents

Peggy A. Focarino

Nicolla Hewitt
Saudi Gazette

In a year where the world is watching if the United States will elect its first female president by voting Hillary Clinton into office, Saudi Arabia has made a little history of its own too. It now has the first woman in the history of the United States who served as the Commissioner for Patents — Peggy Focarino — helping students at universities across the Kingdom officially register their new ideas and innovations, as patents in the hopes they will one day become the next great inventors.

As the first woman to head up the United States Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO], Ms. Focarino led a large government agency with an annual budget of over $3 billion, and a workforce of over 10,000 people. Patents are a way to make an idea become legally binding, so no one can steal the concept, and protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity.

Having spent nearly four decades in this field, and delivering speeches all over the world, Peggy recently decided it was time to leave government work and go into the private sector. She currently serves at senior patent advisor at Oblon one of the largest law firms in the United States focusing exclusively on intellectual property law, that’s based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette about her career change Ms. Focarino said: “I had no perspective on the potential of ideas and patents in Saudi Arabia. In my old job, we had a lot of focus on elementary schools and college on a domestic level. But in my new job, I’m happy to be doing a deeper dive and a lot more digging. I am finding out there are so many universities in the Kingdom that have a ton of research going on, and it’s just such a rich pool of patent potential among these institutions and students.”

Oblon is the same law firm that the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington D.C. has hired to help some of the 100,000 students from the Kingdom studying in the United States register patents too. So far they have registered over 200 patents. With Peggy now on board, Saudi students who stay in the Kingdom to pursue graduate and undergraduate degrees, now have the same opportunity as their counterparts in the US. They also have the chance to be guided by a woman who has led in her field and who wants to help others lead too.

In her interview with the Saudi Gazette, Peggy explained why she jumped at the chance to help. “I had been in the same job for 38 years, and once I launched the quality initiative last year, I felt I wanted to get on the other side and get a view of what the stakeholder community is dealing with on the intellectual property side. I wanted to see what some of the challenges are. It is so global now. I wanted to understand and help the stakeholder community around the world and help them maneuver through the system and leverage my relationships to raise issues that have not been raised, and to be a liaison to remove some of the barriers that currently exist.”

The University of Dammam in the Eastern Province is where Peggy and her team are beginning. That has great news for the 21 colleges and 45,000 students that attend this renowned educational institution. She plans to “create a culture of innovation,” by helping raise the level of awareness on this issue across universities in Saudi Arabia, and explain why it is important to register a patent when you have a good idea.

During her interview with the Saudi Gazette, Ms. Focarino said: “Hopefully if we can get some quick wins they can start to develop some great start-ups. Getting more tangible results is what it is all about. Up to now there has not been so much focus on that within in the Kingdom for students, and no structure for filing patents, and how to go about it. We already have some really interested people and true believers.”

She added: “The University of Dammam already has a patent technology transfer office now which means the office is completely dedicated to working researchers, students and grad students to take it to the next level. We want them to know we are here to help them and offer commercialization analysis. At Oblon, we have technical support people who will work with the inventors to have a discussion with them to understand what is being worked on and if its inventive there. We are such a global community now. There’s just so much potential.”

While there is a lot of potential, there’s a lot of competition too. Each year, the Patent Trade Office [PTO] that Margret used to run, issues over 150,000 patents to companies and individuals worldwide. As of December 2011, the PTO granted 8,743,423 patents and received 16,020,302 applications.

While she freely admits “it is a complicated process,” she and her colleagues at Oblon couldn’t be happier to work with students across the Kingdom. Ms. Focarino told the Saudi Gazette, “Patents are the currency of a knowledge-based economy. The Saudis can have brilliant ideas and great people doing them. But if they do not patent them, then somebody else is going to copy them. We want Saudis to get the credit and I am excited to part of it.”