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May 01, 2024 Feature


By Hope Shimabuku

Words matter. Words can be as fragrant as flowers in bloom. Words can be used as a sword to cut through the morass of incongruity. Words can inspire and call you to action. Words can be a shield to protect those who otherwise cannot speak for themselves.

As lawyers, we swear an oath to protect the Constitution—a document filled with words capturing the hearts and minds of our country’s Founders and embodying the rights of our community. As patent lawyers, we can be our own lexicographers—creating new words in the patent application when the current vocabulary does not quite capture our description. As leaders, our words create a vision and empower the next generation to capture the moment and shape their environment. As a mom, my words nurture and encourage my children to reach for the stars and imagine a world that can be their oyster. As a Christian, I meditate on the words of the Bible to encourage my soul and inspire my daily prayers.

Throughout my engineering and legal career, the words of mentors and allies around me have been invaluable, especially as I have always been “one of the few” women in my field. I grew up in Houston, Texas, right by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Center, also known as Mission Control. My mom was a computer programmer for the Apollo missions, and my dad was an engineer in the oil and gas industry. While I was growing up, I was surrounded by scientists, engineers, and astronauts, and I was always amazed at the technology and innovation that NASA was developing. As a result, I chose to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. In engineering school, I was one of the few female engineers. Every professor in the mechanical engineering department knew me by name. The dean and the professors were very encouraging and supportive of my endeavors throughout my time at the University of Texas at Austin.

Fast-forward through my engineering career and into my law career. I started my career as a patent prosecution lawyer, eventually expanding to include other areas of intellectual property in prosecution—transactional, litigation, policy, and related technology areas. Particularly in the patent attorney arena, I continue to be “one of the few.”

Currently, I’m the regional director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Texas Regional Office. One of the agency’s goals is to bring more women into the innovation and patenting ecosystem. The USPTO has conducted extensive studies related to the number of female inventors listed on patents in the United States. As of 2019, the female inventorship rate is currently at 12.8 percent ( My situation of being “one of the few” is the experience of many other female inventors who are similarly situated.

I believe that mentors and allies can make a world of difference—particularly the words of mentors and allies. A kind word of encouragement or shared story by a mentor or ally can motivate and encourage a female engineer, lawyer, or inventor, keeping her on track or accelerating her project. A supportive word or a recommendation to a partner or supervisor can pave the way for a young or mid-level lawyer to explore a new opportunity, meet a new client, or expand a much-needed skill set. An agenda of well-thought-out goals and objectives at a 1:1 session between a mentor and mentee can increase the effectiveness of the discussion.

Finally, a second pair of eyes to review written work products can strengthen the writing skills of an aspiring lawyer.

Words matter.

So, who do you need to share a word with today?

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By Hope Shimabuku

Hope Shimabuku is the regional director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Texas Regional Office.