Driven – Mobility Moment: Damian Porcari, United States Patent and Trademark Office

Welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments Podcast, where we talk with the people building the mobility ecosystem here in the Detroit region. Today my guest is a super interesting person with a lot of knowledge about Detroit and about automobility. He’s Damian Porcari, director of the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional United States Patent and Trademark Office here in Detroit. 

Damian came to the U.S.P.T.O. after serving as director of licensing and enforcement at Ford Global Technologies.

He also served as a senior patent attorney for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command in Warren. Today we’re talking about the patent’s role in U.S. history, how startups and women and vendors in particular can trademark their products and what’s behind the phrase, “The real McCoy.” I’m your host, Claire Charlton.

Damian, hello and welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments Podcast. I’m really, really excited to talk with you.

Thank you. Happy to be here. Happy to talk to you as well.

Wonderful. So now Damian, in your role you have inside knowledge into the world of patents and trademarks, and I think that most people recognize the role that a patent plays in bringing a product to market, or at least people understand what a patent is. But beyond that, it’s not really part of the everyday world for most people. Can you talk about patents and why a patent is important?

The patent system’s been around for a while. I think the Venetians are credited for being the first to create it. Our country, when we were founded, recognized that we really needed to adopt new technologies to progress and to be successful. And so when Madison and Jefferson were drafting the Constitution, they included a patent clause in article one and that gave the inventors the exclusive right to their inventions and discoveries.

And that was different at the time because the monarchy in Europe didn’t give the inventors exclusive rights. They gave the king’s patrons exclusive rights. And so I think it was the founding of our country and this personal right and this individual right that we created really promoted activity, advancement, sweat-of-the-brow effort by individuals. And I think our Constitution reflected that individuality and our economy grew and flourished because of it.

So the association between individual effort, individual exclusivity really benefited everybody. It just didn’t end with benefit for the individual. It created the invention, it promoted rapid progress in our country, certainly compared to other countries at the time and in enabled the U.S. to flourish both technologically and economically.

So that’s really interesting. The patent is in essence a part of our U.S. history and it helped shape the way that our country and our economy has grown over well since the beginning of U.S. time, I guess.

Right. 1790.

There we go!

So we just recently issued our 10 millionth patent. It took 200 years to go from 1 to 5 million and it took about 33 years to go from 5 million to 10 million. So we’re making really rapid progress because I think we’ve got a greater group of people contributing to that invention pool.

So speaking of progress, let’s talk about Michigan.


Our state ranks, according to my information, fifth in terms of the number of patents granted.

That sounds right.

Okay. Can you break that down a little bit more? What industries are represented among the patents that are granted in Michigan?

Well, it’s no surprise that the industry that I came from, the automobile industry, is the vast bulk of those patents. The big three, each file upwards of a thousand patents a year. And then when you go down to the first tier suppliers, they too are filing nearly a thousand patents a year. And then you’ve got second tier suppliers that are making basic commodity components.

So the automobile industry is the major player in patent filing within Michigan. Outside of the automobile business, you’ll have manufacturers and industrial companies. Dow is a big filer, Whirlpool, Steelcase, Herman Miller, companies that have been around for a while. They’ll make up another big bulk of filers in Michigan.

Then when you go out to newer filers, you’ve got startup companies that have originated from University of Michigan and other technology corridors in Oakland County. And then includes medical device companies like Stryker out in Kalamazoo. And then the smallest group but in my mind, some of the most exciting technologies are coming from new mobility industries that are anticipating our transformation from personal vehicles to tomorrow shared economy companies like May Mobility in Ann Arbor and Tome Software and Royal Oak, Livio in Ferndale. Those are all new companies centered around mobility systems.

Excellent. So tell me about the impact that you think or that you anticipate patents will have on this particular economy that you just mentioned.

Well, so patents for the last 200-plus years are used by inventors to gain market share to get their exclusivity. That means they get to sell things for a period of time that other people can’t sell. So if you’re an inventor and a manufacturer, you run your business and get more sales through it. If you want to be in the licensing business, you can borrow money and you can license your invention to third parties and collect royalties from it.

You can sell your invention, you can actually license a portfolio of companies through your invention. So there’s a number of ways to leverage your patent and make the invention useful to the broader community. I would say the largest and easiest way is to start a business using the patent and to continuously improve upon it. It’s a rare invention that is a one-and-done deal and that can’t benefit from follow-on improvements. And so the companies, the businesses that have been around for a hundred-plus years have series of inventions where the product evolves and continues to improve. Those are the ones that I see as demonstrating the greatest public benefit and have resulted in the greatest economic benefit for the owners.

Okay. And let’s talk a little bit about an really interesting study that was released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this year that showed something interesting, a sizable gender gap in awarded patents. Can you talk about the findings?

Sure. That came out in February and it was required by a statute called the SUCCESS Act to see where our inventor community is coming from. And it included a study of U.S. inventors to determine whether they were men or women. And it looked both historically and at current invention rates and it determined that we have a little less than 20 percent overall of U.S. inventors as women. And that number has been steadily going up since I think the ’80s but it’s still significantly less than 50 percent.

From what I can tell, the increase is due to mixed gender teams that have been working on a particular invention and they put forth all of their names for the patent and a woman is among them. But there aren’t a whole lot of 100 percent women teams or single women that that apply for patents. Correct?

Yeah. We noticed that. You’re right, Claire, that we looked at patents naming just one inventor and the percentage of women on sole inventor patents looking at two or more inventors. And what we found is the number of patents naming multiple inventors is growing and those patents are more likely, patents having more than one inventor, are more likely to include a woman.

Patents where you have just all women teams or just a sole woman is growing fairly slowly. But patents naming at least one woman that have five or more inventors. That’s the highest growth rate of inventions naming women.

Okay. So there’s some positives from this particular study.

There are positives, so that the team component of invention is growing more … the inventive team is expanding and that the inventive team more frequently includes a woman.

And so what impact do you think these numbers, these trends have on our economy?

Well, there’s pluses in that the number is trending upward, but there’s minuses in that. We’ve got a long way to go to reach parity. And so if you have women participating in the engineering and science workforce that don’t see themselves as an inventors, they’re not contributing at the same rate or way as men. And we’re not able to enjoy the benefits of their ideas and creativity.

And they’re also not able to be role models to other women. And young girls so that they can show them a path forward or career plan, that includes invention. So it’s kind of a twofold problem and that is you’re not creating a new cadre of inventors for tomorrow that includes girls and women and you’re not getting the inventions and ideas and creativity that women have today.

So including more women in the invention pool has near-term benefits for the country and long-term benefits for the world. So if we can get more ideas coming from women, they’re going to be good ones and we’re all going to benefit from them.

Are there any areas where we are seeing any industries in particular that we are seeing strong women only inventor patents awarded?

Yes. So the consumer products group seems to have the highest concentration of women inventors. Companies like Procter and Gamble, Bristol-Myers, in life sciences, they also have a large percentage of women inventors and the technologies or industries with the lowest number of inventors is manufacturing energy. They have some of the lowest rates of inventing. In the Midwest, including Michigan is kind of at the bottom of the list.

So the report has a really interesting phrase. It calls women the “Lost Einsteins,” which I thought was interesting. What does that phrase mean to you?

Well, so to me it means that there are ideas that aren’t published that aren’t known, that aren’t utilized, that aren’t commercialized. So you’ve got these Rembrandt’s that are hidden up in the attic that people aren’t enjoying. There’s Einsteins that are coming up with theories that aren’t being published and ideas that aren’t being implemented. So yeah, it’s a loss for the country. It’s certainly a loss for the people that could use these ideas and these technologies. And it’s a loss for the women that didn’t capitalize on them.

So what do you think we can do? How can we increase the number of women inventors?

The first thing that P.T.O. is doing is we are holding public hearings. We had one in Alexandria this week. We’re going to have a number of hearings where we’re going to collect ideas from the public on how we can change that direction. So one, talking about the issue will influence that. If you want to change something, measure it. That’s been the motto that I’ve had for my whole life.

And so talking about the topic, asking people how it can be improved will by focusing on it, help it change. So as people ask the question, why aren’t there more women inventors? I think women will say, yeah, why aren’t there and why can’t I be that first person in my family and my work team and at my company? And so the more we talk about it, the more it’ll change.

I never really realized the vast resources that are available and can be found through the U.S.P.T.O. website. Apart from being able to hear the registered trademark sounds that we are probably all familiar with, like the Pillsbury doughboy and the NBC chimes and so forth, there’s tons of programming and events that are open to the public and there’s also lots of history to learn on the site. I found it a really enjoyable place to spend time. Do you have a favorite part of the website?

Oh, yes. I love reading about the historical journey that the country took and how patents moved it along. I’d say that the historical patents, especially those where the inventors have been inducted into the hall of fame. Those are probably my favorites. I think that the past shapes our present and our future, so that’s my favorite place to be.

I also think the repository of the published patent applications and issued patents is the starting point that any new business or any business that’s creating an improvement should begin their journey. The whole reason we have a patent system is to benefit the public and to encourage people to build on the past.

So our search portal includes every us patent that’s ever been issued as well as every U.S. patent application that’s ever been published. You’ve got the wealth of history behind you, not just from a historical perspective, but from a real world problem solving, I want to do X. How did other people achieve that? I want to do X in my industry. How did other industries do that? I think that that’s the biggest benefit of the patent website and the reason that we exist.

And I’ll take this moment to just say that as the director of the office where you work, you spend your time at the Elijah J. McCoy, Midwest Regional United States Patent and Trademark Office, which I don’t know if you can even fit that on a business card, but Elijah J. McCoy as part of Detroit’s history, and I even think that there’s something about the real McCoy that goes with his name?

Thank you for asking me about that. I am very proud to have that and I make it a point to read my entire title because it gives me the opportunity to reference Elijah J. McCoy. So his story is just absolutely fascinating. He is the son of escaped slaves, fugitive slaves that went to Canada in the Underground Railroad, which as railroad, I thought that that included thousands and thousands of escaped slaves going to Canada.

And unfortunately it was a very small number, but he grew up in Windsor right across the river from us, but couldn’t go to school in Windsor and went to school in Scotland instead and studied engineering and came back to Detroit where he founded a business. And he had a number of products, but the most successful product he had was a automatic oiling system for steam locomotives.

At the time, there were two ways to oil a locomotive. And there was the crazy dangerous way whereas you’re moving on the train, someone would walk out, an oiler would walk out, and actually lubricate all the moving parts while the train is moving. You can imagine how scary that was.

Or you could stop the train and have the oiler walk around the train and oil. Well, stopping the train was terribly inefficient. And McCoy came up with a way of self-lubricating the train so that it didn’t have to stop. And you had a huge improvement in safety and a huge improvement in inefficiency.

Well, people do what people do and they copied the idea. So not only did McCoy patent his idea, so he had his patent rights, he also had a trademark on his name, and he then came up with the slogan, “The Real McCoy” to distinguish the authentic article.

And that’s where that phrase comes from. So it’s a real tribute.

That was a smart thing to do!

Well, he was a very smart guy and was very capable in a whole host of areas. He went beyond steam engines and oilers. So he had actually designs and other products that he contributed to the area. So we’re actually going to be hosting an event right around the seventh anniversary of the opening of the office, the Elijah J. McCoy office, where we’re going to have his relatives and people in the community come and celebrate our seventh anniversary, where we’re going to have a photograph of the Elijah J. McCoy hung on our walls in commemoration of his contributions to Detroit.

What a great way to connect with history.

Yeah. So I believe we’re going to plan that for July and look for details on our website. If you want to come and see us hang that poster and learn a little bit more about Elijah J. McCoy and honor his legacy through his family.

Awesome. Damian, I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you so much for sharing a little bit of the work that you do every day.

Thanks, Claire. I appreciate it. Any time.

Thanks for joining me for this episode of Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast. Head over to for a lot more mobility focused content, including articles and podcasts. Learn how the Detroit region leads in next generation mobility and subscribe to our newsletter. 

I’m Claire Charlton. See you again soon.

Learn how to submit a public comment and attend the SUCCESS Act public hearing in Detroit on June 18, 2019.

Photo of Damian Porcari courtesy of the United States Patent & Trademark Office.