Corning’s journey toward applying a diversity and inclusion lens to IP
As a child growing up on the Tuscarora Indian Nation in western New York, I never imagined that my career and my culture would intersect in a way that has allowed me to apply a diversity, equity and inclusion lens to intellectual property (IP).
At an early age, I learned how to do the unique, Tuscarora-style raised beadwork. In high school and college, I was an avid lacrosse player and was lucky enough to work at a wooden lacrosse stick manufacturing company that was located within the Tuscarora Nation. It was clear to me that my heritage was rich with innovation, but I did not yet know that this was also intellectual property.
I commuted to college in Buffalo and obtained a degree in electrical engineering and moved straight from my lifetime home to working at Corning in 1998 for our corporate engineering group. In my 24-year career, I’ve spent the last 15 years working in intellectual asset management (IAM), most recently as Director, IP, IAM at Corning.
Corning’s Law Department began exploring avenues in which we could improve diversity in IP in 2020 with two focus areas: (1) creating an educational awareness of IP with underserved communities, and (2) improving diversity in innovators. These efforts included what we can do today and in the future to ensure sustainability for the next generation.
A small team in the IP department partnered with Vice President and Chief IP Counsel Tom Beall to develop a list of initiatives that we could immediately advance. Our first action was to understand how we could best support the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation’s (IPOEF) strategic framework. Their mission is to “promote an understanding of intellectual property and its value to society” with a strategic priority of “innovation and creation by, within, and for underrepresented communities”. IPOEF focuses on four strategic pillars: Educate, Enable, Employ, and Encourage.
At Corning, we understand that a critical tenet in improving diversity across the board in STEM and IP is to increase diversity in the talent pool. To do that, we must inspire the next generation of scientists and legal professionals. One initiative that we identified under the ‘educate’ pillar was to leverage the IP Patch program. We utilised this curriculum to teach students about the fundamentals of intellectual property and innovation, while also encouraging them to consider pursuing careers in STEM and IP. To date, we’ve awarded over 70 IP patches to local students in Corning, New York as well as to Native American communities in both New York and North Carolina. Corning will continue to partner with IPOEF to support and help develop programming that educates students in underserved communities about the importance of science and intellectual property.
It wasn’t until 2021 that I learned about the United States Patent & Trademark office (USPTO) Progress and Potential reports examining gender disparity between male and female inventors, which were published in 2019 and 2020. This led to Corning signing on to The Diversity Pledge in late 2021, making a public commitment to work to improve diversity among inventors at the company. Our initial focus is to measure and report on gender diversity, but our goal is to expand to other underrepresented inventor (URI) groups in the future. Our preliminary data shows that from 2010 to 2020, for US granted patents, the inventorship rate for women (# of unique women inventors / total unique inventors) has increased by 48% and the rate of women’s share of patenting (indicator of the extent to which innovation is originating from women) has increased by 52%.
While Corning’s statistics for female inventive contributions far exceed the USPTO reported averages, we still have work to do. We are early in our journey of analysing baseline data and identifying best practices to implement. Today, we are moving forward with this pledge with full support from our Law Department leadership, technology community, and endorsement from Corning’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office.
Outreach to Native American communities remains a personal priority.
To celebrate World IP Day in May 2022, my IP colleagues and I spent the day with 5th and 6th grade students on the Tuscarora Nation, teaching the fundamentals of intellectual property through the lens of Native American culture. To help the students envision themselves as innovators, we showed representative items from their culture such as beadwork, moccasins, woodwork, and a wooden lacrosse stick, demonstrating the many aspects of IP embodied in their heritage that surrounds the students in daily life. The students greatly enjoyed learning about their culture in connection with IP and asked many insightful questions.
As a former student of Tuscarora Elementary School, I was especially thrilled to create an awareness of careers in STEM and IP with the students. Growing up, I did not have the knowledge or experience to understand the many aspects of IP that were evident in my upbringing and throughout the history of my culture. I now have a newfound appreciation for the intellectual property surrounding our medicinal knowledge, gardening, the design and engineered structure of the longhouse, and the artistic expressions of art.
As I leave work for the day and walk down the halls of Sullivan Park, our R&D campus located in Painted Post, New York, I take a moment to observe the pictures in the hallway of our Corporate Fellows. The Corporate Fellow designation is the highest honor of recognition for innovators at Corning. I take special note of the diversity of the Fellows and feel a sense of pride. I am honored to have been able to work with many of them throughout the course of my career. I’m hopeful and inspired that the work we are doing at Corning will make a positive and lasting impact on the diversity of the next generation of faces on the wall. Perhaps someday these photos will include students from the Tuscarora Nation who have made their own connections between their heritage and intellectual property.
Inclusivity Insights is a monthly feature in which companies share stories, learnings, and experiences of their D&I journey related to IP and innovation with the IAM audience. Previous articles in the series: