Watch a video from Obama's visit to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology by clicking on the main image on this page (at right).
President Barack Obama visited an Annandale-area high school Friday to sign into law patent reform and tout his proposed jobs bill, drawing an enthusiastic response in this Democratic stronghold.
Obama toured a classroom at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology before speaking to students for approximately 20 minutes and signing the America Invents Act, which introduces the first significant changes to U.S. patent law in almost 60 years and is designed to reduce applicant backlogs. The law also changes the way patents are awarded from the current “first-to-invent” policy to a “first-to-file” system.
When Thomas Edison applied for a patent for the phonograph, his application was approved in seven weeks, Obama said. Today, the process takes an average of three years.
“We can’t afford to drag our feet any longer, not at a time when we should be doing everything we can to create good, middle-class jobs to put Americans back to work,” he said. “We have always succeeded because we have been the most dynamic, innovative economy in the world. That has to be encouraged. That has to be continued. We have to do everything we can to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit wherever we find it.”
Obama said patent reform was connected to his jobs bill, the American Jobs Act. The $447 billion proposed legislation includes measures such as cutting payroll taxes, offering tax credits, investing in school and public infrastructure, extending unemployment insurance and reducing the deficit over the long term.
“This change in our patent laws is part of our agenda for making us competitive over the long term,” he said. “But we’ve also got a short-term economic crisis and challenges we have to deal with right now. And what the American Jobs Act does is it puts more people back to work and puts more money in the pockets of working Americans.”
Obama also called for further measures to help the country compete in the global economy, including reducing the time it takes for new products to come to market, investing in research and technology, promoting domestic manufacturing and improving public education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“This is the economy we need to develop—one where innovation is encouraged, education is a national mission and new jobs and businesses take root right here in America,” he said. “That’s the long-term project.”
Attending Friday’s speech was Marc Williams, an Alexandria City School Board member and IBM government affairs employee for intellectual property policy. Williams called the new patent law a “tremendous step.”
“This country needs a patent system that reflects the advances in technology since the last major patent law was enacted, in 1952,” Williams said. “So this is going to be good for the economy, good for the future of the country and U.S. competitiveness.”
Andrea Cobb, biotechnology lab director at Thomas Jefferson, said it was appropriate for Obama to sign the new law at Thomas Jefferson. “We have the next generation of inventors and scientists, many of whom have already done significant research and many of whom have already invented and started the patent process,” she said. “So, I think it's a very validating thing for them, the students.”
After Obama completed the bill-signing, students crowded together nearby in hopes of a handshake. Stephanie Melendez, a 16-year-old senior, said she was excited by the visit.
“I think it was a very good message not only to us, but to everyone else who can benefit in reforming the patent system,” Melendez said.
Senior Noah Yoo, also 16, said he liked what he heard from the president. “I thought he made a great speech,” Yoo said. “I really liked his points on STEM education. I’m glad he came and visited. I think this was a great place to do it.”
During Obama’s classroom visit, students demonstrated projects including a robot, a wheelchair controlled by brain waves and a satellite.
“This is one of the best high schools in the country,” Obama told students. “As you can see, it’s filled with some pretty incredible students. I have to tell you, when I was a freshman in high school, none of my work was patent-worthy. … I’m hoping that I will learn something just by being close to you, through osmosis. I already feel smarter.”