Remarks to the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor NanoBio Tech Summit
By: Congressman Lamar Smith
April 1, 2005
Thank you, Dr. Trauth for that generous introduction. It's an honor to be here today to address all of you at the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council NanoBioTech Summit.
The I-35 Corridor enjoys the well-deserved reputation as one of the most high-tech, and one of the fastest growing, regions in the nation.
To maintain our leadership role in the high-tech arena, we must continue to modernize our basic infrastructure and maintain the necessary resources to sustain a high quality of life.
We must create jobs by attracting emerging companies and developing technologies, and increase access to higher education for our future scientists and entrepreneurs.
Above all else, we must have a transportation system that can support a growing population.
Transportation plays a key role in the growth of our region, but heavy traffic congestion in the I-35 corridor harms the local economy and vital international commerce. This trend will only escalate as the population of the Austin-San Antonio I-35 region increases from its current 2.5 million residents to over 5 million by 2020.
That is why I have been working with the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council to improve travel conditions along the corridor.
Over the years, we have secured funding for the expansion of I-35, the construction of the State Highway 130 bypass system from North of Georgetown to South of Seguin, and the regional commuter rail project. In fact, the House recently passed the Transportation Equity Act, which includes $16 million I obtained for transportation projects along the I-35 Corridor.
While these projects will do much to alleviate traffic congestion and encourage growth, more must be done. As a growing region, our area will require additional federal funding to keep up with the corresponding transportation and infrastructure needs.
The Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council has done a terrific job in representing your interests. I look forward to coordinating with them in the years ahead to address our region's transportation needs.
As a Member of Congress, I have the pleasure of serving on several committees whose jurisdiction directly affects the issues we are discussing today.
Among those assignments is my seat on the Science Committee, of which I have been a member for 18 years. With oversight jurisdiction ranging from the nation's space program to scientific research at our universities, this committee is essential to issues vital to our region.
As a member of the Committee's Research and Development Subcommittee, I have helped develop policies that govern the growing fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology.
While often misunderstood and underappreciated, these fields are fast becoming the nucleus of many industries.
Today nanomaterials help to create protective and glare-reducing coatings for eyeglasses and cars.
Electronic applications include automotive sensors, automobile catalytic converters, computer hard drives and nano-enhanced computer chips.
Many everyday products such as sunscreens, cosmetics, stain-free clothing, and mattresses contain nano-scale materials.
And among one of the newest nanotechnology innovations in healthcare are drugs more easily absorbed by the human body.
Nanotechnology is a fast-growing field. In fact, the National Science Foundation conservatively predicts a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology in little over a decade.
The United States currently leads the world in generating knowledge and performing creative interdisciplinary research. But we are at risk of falling behind our international competitors, including Japan, South Korea, and Europe if we fail to sustain broad-based interests in nanotechnology.
To help the United States compete in the global marketplace, President George W. Bush founded the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2001. This government-wide effort coordinates and advances nanoscale science, engineering, and technology.
The goals of the initiative are to:
- Maintain a world-class research and development program aimed at realizing the full potential of nanotechnology;
- Facilitate transfer of new technologies into products that create economic growth, jobs, and other public benefits;
- Develop educational resources, a skilled workforce, and the supporting infrastructure and tools to advance nanotechnology; and,
- Support the responsible development of nanotechnology.
The program currently involves 10 agencies, including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy to name a few.
Each of these agencies has a specific nanotechnology focus.
For example, the Defense Department is focusing on chemical, radiological, and biological detection and protection. Currently under development is the next generation combat uniform that can change camouflage configurations and warn the soldier of a chemical attack.
At the National Institutes of Health, researchers are investigating the interaction of nanomaterials and the cells of the body, mainly to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and directed surgery.
And at NASA, researchers are focusing on using nanotechnology to make materials lighter and stronger and to miniaturize electronics and data storage.
In addition to funding research, federal support through the National Nanotechnology Initiative provides crucial funds for the creation of university and government nanoscale research and development laboratories. The initiative also helps educate the workforce necessary for the future of nanotechnology.
The NNI plays a key role in fostering cross-disciplinary networks and partnerships and in disseminating information. It further enables small businesses to pursue opportunities offered by nanotechnology, and encourages all levels of business to exploit those opportunities.
In the field of nanotechnology, each invention serves as a building block for applications that have the potential to change our economy and to improve our standard of living. The possibilities are as endless as the human imagination.
To further encourage innovation and global competitiveness, Congress enacted the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act last session.
The law authorizes funding for nanotechnology research and development and puts into law programs and activities supported by the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
The Act cements U.S. economic and technical leadership in the field by assuring stable, long-term support for nanotechnology research. Continued research plays an important role in the further development of nanotechnology. This science is still in its infancy and it will take many years of sustained investment and investigation for this field to achieve maturity.
The Act increases the funding for colleges and universities throughout the country to expand their research programs in nanotechnology and to partner with companies to develop their results into commercial products.
All together, it authorizes $3.7 billion in research and development funding over the next four years.
To find out more about federal nanotechnology programs, and how they can assist your organization, I suggest you visit the National Nanotechnology Initiative website at www.nano.gov.
The site features news and frequently-asked questions about the initiative, provides links to the involved agencies, and includes information on how to contact the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.
Finally, the website provides information on how your organization can participate in this federal initiative, and serves as a resource for how to apply for federal grants in the nanotech field.
Efforts are also underway in Congress to further educate members on nanotechnology.
For many members, the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act that Congress passed last year was their first introduction to this field. To others, not unlike the general public, their only prior exposure to nanotechnology consisted of references in Michael Crichton's recent novel Prey, or films like Spiderman 2 and Minority Report.
While these references have raised awareness, these are works of fiction and are not always based on scientific fact.
Other sciences have been stifled in the past due to lack of information or public apprehension, be it real or perceived. If we are to succeed in advancing nanotechnology, than we must ensure that our nation's lawmakers understand the basic concepts and potential for this field. To that end, I am pleased to announce that the bipartisan and bicameral Nanotechnology Caucus in Congress is up and running.
The caucus is specifically designed to educate Members of Congress and provide them with the information they need to create sound policy to govern this growing science.
Throughout this session of Congress, the caucus will engage in several activities to promote nanotechnology. This will include educational seminars, guest speakers, briefings and special events highlighting the work of various federal agencies in the field.
The combined successes of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act and the Nanotechnology Caucus have served as a model and support system for similar initiatives across the country.
This includes our own statewide Texas Nanotechnology Initiative and programs such as the Nanomaterials Application Center at Texas State University and the University of Texas's Strategic Partnership for Research in Nanotechnology (SPRING).
These nanotechnology centers, located at various academic institutions, serve as equipment resources for different geographical areas in Texas. They enable partnerships of both internal and external research collaborations, and are available to industry and universities interested in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
Another committee assignment in the House of Representatives that allows me to have a direct impact on the biotech field is my position on the Homeland Security Committee.
Biotechnology enhances our everyday quality of life. Today biotech industries are developing medicines to target more than 200 diseases, like cancers, diabetes, arthritis, and AIDS.
Biotechnology has improved our food supply, and its applications have been used by many industries to streamline manufacturing processes that reduce waste and use less energy.
Biotechnology also plays a key role in defending our homeland.
Last year, the Homeland Security Committee worked to pass the Project BioShield Act of 2004. This legislation was developed in response to the President's call for establishing a first line of defense against biological weapons.
The anthrax attacks in 2001 gave us just a small glimpse of the terrible potential of bioterrorism. Fortunately, we had effective medical treatments to deal with this small scale attack. However, many potential biological terrorism agents still lack available antidotes.
A widespread attack on our population, or our armed forces, involving one of the many biological agents for which there is currently no effective treatment could be devastating.
Because these diseases occur infrequently, there has been little economic incentive to invest the millions of dollars required to bring a new treatment to market.
Project BioShield removes barriers to development and production by providing a guaranteed source of funding that assures private manufacturers that if they create a safe and effective product to counter bioterrorism threats, the federal government will purchase it.
BioShield also gives the managers of the Strategic National Stockpile the ability to make long-term binding contracts for the procurement of needed bioterror countermeasures.
A large guaranteed homeland security market, and funding for procurement contracts, will encourage the biotech and pharmaceutical industries to develop "next generation" treatments for potential bioterror agents.
In addition to my work on the Science and Homeland Security Committees, I also chair the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.
Most refer to this Subcommittee as the "Intellectual Property" or "IP" Subcommittee - which reflects the traditional role of the Subcommittee in protecting intellectual property. The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over such areas as copyright and patent protections, cyber-security and patent and trademark office reform.
Intellectual property laws allow people to hold a particular bundle of rights pertaining to their ideas and innovations, much the same way that they own physical property.
Through these rights, the IP owner is rewarded in the marketplace, and this encourages further creativity.
Congress worked to promote innovation during the last Congress by enacting the Cooperative Research and Technology Enhancement or CREATE Act, legislation I introduced.
This law encourages cooperative research and development projects involving American universities, public institutions and private companies.
The CREATE Act responds to a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision in which the court held that confidential information exchanged between members of a research team who represent multiple organizations may be used to invalidate a patent.
This legislation removes that barrier and allows the patent to be granted if it involves multiple organizations.
This is important to today's biotech companies as they conduct much of their research with partners such as universities and other public or private organizations. In fact, the University of Texas ranks fourth on the list of universities that received the most patents in 2004. Many of these patents result from working with the private sector on research.
Research collaborations are essential to the discovery of new inventions, the creation of new jobs, and the health of the U.S. economy. Their protection will increase incentives to develop new technologies that improve our lives.
Last Congress, I also worked actively to reform the Patent and Trademark Office.
The PTO does not receive the attention that other government agencies, such as the Department of State and Department of Justice receive. It should. This office is critical to the health of our economy and to the lives of millions of Americans.
The PTO protects the rights of all American inventors. From the lone individual working in their garage to the small biotech business person with a breakthrough idea to the large high-tech company that applies for hundreds of patents, all rely on a responsive PTO.
Since U.S. Patent Number One was issued in 1837 for traction wheels, the patent system, and the creativity, genius and talent that define it, have benefited all Americans.
From the revolutionary electric light bulb to the latest software technology, patents drive an ever-improving standard of living and contribute to our economic prosperity.
Improving patent quality is one of my top priorities for the IP Subcommittee this year.
Starting in April, I plan to hold hearings on several aspects of patent reform and have already begun to work with the various industries to try to build consensus on the issues. I am optimistic that we can get a bill that will improve the current environment for patent owners and researchers.
Patents generate large revenues for biotech companies, universities and other research organizations. They are typically the primary asset of most biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. We must make sure that patent quality improves so that the PTO can offer inventors a more efficient system.
All of you do valuable work to promote the nanotechnology and biotechnology industries. Thank you for your dedication to moving these exciting fields forward. I appreciate the opportunity to address all of you this afternoon.