The onset of a presidential election (despite much of the noise and silliness) does make you understand the seriousness of the choices we face and especially, the special place that America holds in the world. As I and many other conservatives have argued before, our candidates and our leaders need to focus on American exceptionalism and make clear that we will continue to pursue the policies that set us apart from much of the world.
Throughout our history, one of those has clearly been American innovation.
Since our founding, America has led the world in ideas and inventions that make our lives better and easier, that heal people, and that create wealth and prosperity. This is no accident. It is largely because the framers enshrined patent protections in our Constitution — and extended the idea of property rights to ideas and not just physical property.
This established the U.S. as a nation that encourages and nourishes innovation: If you have an idea, you can own that idea and benefit from it — that is what gives people the incentive to take risks and provides assurances for those willing to invest in those ideas. That’s how property rights work — physical and intellectual property. It is one of the concepts that separates us from nations like China and India.
Unfortunately, there are always attempts by some to roll back or weaken property rights of all kinds, including patent rights.
In recent years, there have been members of Congress — on both sides of the aisle — who have been pushing so-called patent reform that would overhaul the entire system. Following the paths of other giant reforms (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank), they supposedly address a specific problem by imposing a solution that changes the whole system for everyone else. We’ve all seen the unintended consequences that come along with those big government fixes.
In this case, the supporters of legislation (like the Innovation Act in the House and the PATENT Act in the Senate) claim they want to fix the issue of abusive litigation and “patent trolls.” But rather than address those specific issues, the bills weaken patent rights across the board.
I’m as concerned about litigation abuse as anyone, but when a patent holder’s property rights are infringed, they have only one recourse and that is through the courts. Any broad weakening of that ability reduces or removes the incentive to invent — and makes it harder to find investors for those inventions.
Some conservative supporters have tried to argue that patent reform is a form of tort reform and a way to weaken trial lawyers. That’s plain wrong. This issue is about property rights, not tort reform. Despite the claims of supporters (and a few highly publicized cases), patent-litigation rates remain low, and the proposed legislation does nothing to address some of the practices its advocates claim to be concerned about.
It’s important to note that Congress passed a patent-reform bill just a few years ago. In addition, there have been a number of court decisions and administrative moves by the courts that address many of the issues that have been raised. These changes have already given judges the ability to shift costs to the individuals bringing frivolous suits and raising the bar to bring such lawsuits. Why pass sweeping legislation when we have yet to fully understand the impact of recent court rulings on our patent system?
While a few voices have claimed conservative support for these bills, the broader conservative movement understands what is at stake. A few months ago, the, Conservative Action Project, a coalition of conservative grass-roots leaders I am a member of, released a “Memo for the Movement” stating our unequivocal opposition to any legislation that would undermine intellectual-property rights and destroy the strong patent protections that make America envied by the world.
President Reagan’s Attorney General Edwin Meese and leaders of Club for Growth, Eagle Forum, Heritage Action, ForAmerica, Tea Party Patriots, Senate Conservatives Fund, among many others, have declared opposition to this legislation and urged Congress to not rush into reforms that would harm our economy and undermine our constitutional rights.
Conservatives understand the need to embrace American exceptionalism and the constitutional principles that have allowed us to lead the world in innovation and growth. Now is not the time to turn our backs on those fundamental principles. China, India and the rest of the world should see our IP and patents policies as the model — it shouldn’t be the other way around.
• Ken Blackwell, former Secretary of State in Ohio, is the Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment at the Family Research Council. He serves on the board of directors of the Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.