by Russ Slifer, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO
President Obama’s historic announcement, just two years ago, paved a new course of history for a more open U.S.-Cuba relationship—and today the Administration is taking steps to not only break down economic barriers, but also give way to more scientific collaboration, unlocking new opportunities for innovation.
That presents a dynamic opportunity for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce — to support and facilitate trade and investment between our countries. That’s why under leadership of President Obama and Secretary Pritzker, we are working to create a framework for strong intellectual property rights that will anchor investment, and fuel research and development in both countries. And it’s also why last week I participated in an historic office-to-office meeting between the USPTO and the Cuban Intellectual Property Office (OCPI) during the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) General Assemblies in Switzerland, to exchange perspectives on how each of our systems can be strengthened for the 21st century.
As authorized commercial ties between Cuba and the United States strengthen, intellectual property (IP) plays a key role in future trade and foreign direct investment. Strong IP rights help anchor foreign direct investment and capital flows both by bringing adequate rule of law but also by inspiring market confidence in terms of the commercial enforceability of IP. Accordingly, the USPTO has begun to engage with our Cuban counterparts in ground-breaking meetings over the past few months to develop a long term strategy to protect IP in the region.
Just this September, the USPTO participated in a regional WIPO seminar on the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) held in Havana to explore ways in which we are currently enabling country to country filings. USPTO staff discussed the U.S. experience with implementing the PCT, which aims to simplify the process of filing foreign patent applications. Additionally, I traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban officials, including OCPI, to discuss the USPTO’s mission and to reaffirm our interest in possible future collaboration on IP matters.
In May 2016, USPTO staff traveled to Cuba to participate in a series of events organized by WIPO and the OCPI to begin a dialogue to strengthen the relations between our two offices. Participants included academia, local industry, IP professionals, and government officials and focused primarily on patents and technology transfer issues. During this trip, USPTO officials were able to conduct the first face-to-face meetings with OCPI officials in over fifty years. We provided background information about the USPTO’s patent and trademark operations and expressed interest in establishing a solid foundation for future collaboration.
This series of steps is just the beginning, but it builds upon actions Secretary Pritzker and President Obama have taken to help position businesses for future growth in both our countries, facilitate trade, and drive investment. We are focused at the USPTO on championing IP both domestically and abroad, as businesses in a global economy need the security of knowing that their innovative technology, brands, creative works and even trade secrets, are secure in foreign markets.
As our authorized commercial ties with Cuba begin to strengthen, there is no doubt that U.S. companies will increase their use of the Cuban IP system. With this in mind, it is important for the USPTO to establish a line of communication and build a relationship with our Cuban counterparts to help achieve this objective. We are optimistic that our relationship with OCPI, and with Cuba in general, will continue to strengthen.