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U.S. Secretary of Commerce shares insights at Smart Fabric Summit

Features | April 26, 2018 | By:

IFAI and the Dept. of Commerce sponsored the event April 24 in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross responded to IFAI’S Advanced Textile Products division chair Amit Kapoor’s questions at the Smart Fabrics Summit April 24. Photo: Kaveh Sardari.

“I’m taking this up there with me,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told his interviewer, Amit Kapoor, as the two of them stepped on stage for the Secretary’s “fireside chat” at IFAI’s Smart Fabrics Summit April 24. Kapoor is chair of IFAI’s Advanced Textile Products division and president of First Line Technology.

Ross was talking about a conductive fiber that had been handed to him. He planned to demonstrate to the audience how it lit up. It was just one of the examples of the Secretary’s interest in advanced technologies, which he discussed with some excitement yesterday afternoon.

Future possibilities

Ross was especially interested in the future possibilities associated with travel into space, and noted that 600 people have already paid $250,000 each for a twenty-minute sub-orbital ride in a rocket. “But the real leap,” he said, “is going to be when the Moon is ‘a gas station’ to refuel rockets.”

Eighty percent of a rocket’s weight is in the fuel required to escape Earth’s gravity, he said, but the Moon doesn’t have that gravitational pull. What it does have is ice, which can provide the oxygen needed to make rocket fuel. This also allows for increased payload in order to travel farther into deep space.

Some of this exploration may include mining asteroids, which are rich in minerals, Ross said. Although he acknowledged the dangers, he added, “It’s all surface mining, so you can just pick it up.”

Facing tough issues

The Secretary shared several initiatives that are meant to support the creative ventures of American businesses. One way, he said, is to combine IP and Buy American, “using our IP as an intellectual tool.” Another is to make U.S. patents more beneficial to the inventor. “The U.S. Patent Office will soon issue its 10 millionth patent,” he said, which far exceeds any other country’s numbers.

He also responded to Kapoor’s question about protecting IP, with his concerns about “patent trolls” that extort money from companies by getting the rights to a patent, rather than producing the new product or service on their own. “They’re not going to be getting away with that any more,” Ross said.

Section 301 has been instigated to investigate abuses, particularly in China, that can involve security breaches, and stolen technology. “It’s a huge, huge problem, and it’s not going away,” he said. “Look at China’s 2025 Plan, if you want to read something frightening at night.”

Their plan is to develop 70–80 percent market share by 2025 in several tech areas, including space, robotics and telecommunication. “Their vision of the future is to be the technology center for the world,” he said.

Kapoor asked about data privacy and smart fabrics. The Secretary said that data privacy globally is of great concern. There is an agreement with the EU called “The Privacy Shield,” but it’s being challenged in Europe. “The Facebook situation will fan that fire,” he said. Data privacy issues, however, “will figure into any trade discussion we’re going to have going forward,” Ross said.

Overcoming challenges

The Secretary cautioned his audience about launching new technologies without proper market research and used as an example his business association with a fabric for men’s ties that would repel liquid. The problem was the tie manufacturers didn’t want it. If you have a new product or technology, “Make sure you have a customer identified for it to succeed commercially,” he said.

Given the challenges facing entrepreneurial businesses, Ross said “I’m here because we are trying very hard to help companies like yours who want to develop new technology. If there are regulatory issues, let us know. Identify them for us; you’re more likely to know the specifics and wording.

“It’s not that we think there should be no regulations,” he said, but “regulations should be a facilitator of business, not an inhibitor.”

He urged people to participate in the SelectUSA® Investment Summit, organized by the Department of Commerce to encourage foreign investment in U.S. businesses. The event will be held June 20-22 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in the Washington, D.C. area. Last year’s event had 3,000 in attendance.


Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at

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