What do microwaves, hair dryers, electric guitars, airplanes, pocket lighters, and sewing machines all have in common?
If you answered that they are all patented inventions that improved Americans’ lives, in one way or another, you would be exactly right.
American innovation is at a crossroads today — and the future of invention in our country will be determined by our resolve to enforce patent protections and to uphold the rule of law.
Patent infringement cases and attacks on intellectual property have been in the news a lot recently. Pharmaceutical and technology companies, in particular, often must go to court to protect their intellectual property and to seek the courts’ intervention to stop the outright theft of their ideas.
Patent erosion is widespread, and the implications are far-reaching. Life-changing technologies and life-saving medical devices and drug therapies take years from concept to production to develop. The process is expensive, ranging from tens of millions to billions of dollars in research and development. Companies are willing to invest the time and money to make their pharmaceuticals and technologies available because of the anticipated payoff at a later date.
The degradation of our patent protection system will have the predictable effect of robbing innovators of the necessary incentives to attract them to the hard work of developing new ideas. The average American may not think patents have much everyday use or practical relevance, but the truth is that the cutting-edge innovations that have reduced cancer deaths and spurred the technologies we use every day all required enormous upfront investment in research and development.
I recently sat down for a Facebook Live interview with Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie to discuss the future of patents in the United States. Mr. Massie, an inventor himself who holds 29 patents, explained the threats to inventors and how important the U.S. patent system is. As the congressman noted, inventors labor for years (sometimes even decades) on their ideas, and one of the undeniable motivating factors is the possibility of financial gain down the road. The only way such payoff is even possible is through the patent system, which guarantees that intellectual property will not be pirated by others.
Mr. Massie also helped explain that international entities are increasingly eroding patent protections. The United States, as the world’s historic leader not only in innovation but also in promoting the rule of law to enforce patent laws, has a responsibility at this point to recommit itself to upholding the very laws and patent protections we have seen propel innovation during our nation’s entire existence.
One of the fascinating aspects of my conversation with Mr. Massie was his reminder that the United States has a rich history of enforcing patent laws. Our founding fathers understood that patent protections would drive technological advancements, and they developed our patent system to be a stark contrast to the deeply flawed British patent system (which impeded inventions by creating undue barriers to obtaining patents). As historians Naomi Lamoreaux and the late Kenneth Sokoloff noted in their book on American invention, our founding fathers “quite self-consciously” crafted a patent system that would enable average citizens to participate in the innovative sector.
While it would be easy to assume that the United States’ robust patent system was an offshoot of America’s high-energy innovative and creative culture, in fact, the exact opposite is actually true. Our robust innovative sector is a direct offshoot of our founding fathers’ well-crafted and robust system of patent protections.
As Mr. Massie noted in the interview, and as our founding fathers so clearly articulated, intellectual property is a form of property, deserving of the same rule of law protections that we have in place for any other type of property. That fact, although often obscured in today’s digital intellectual property lawsuits, has been a prominent feature in patent law throughout our nation’s history. As one example, in a patent infringement trial back in 1846, the judge instructed the jury that an “inventor holds a property in his invention by as good a title as the farmer holds his farm and flock.” That succinct explanation of intellectual property is as relevant today as it was 170 years ago.
President Trump campaigned on an agenda to Make America Great Again. If he wants to help America reclaim its position as the world’s inventive leader, he could start by drawing inspiration from our founding fathers. Protecting patents and enforcing the rule of law to drive innovation is a distinctly pro-America platform that our founders endorsed — and it neatly fits within President Trump’s popular Make America Great Again agenda.
Jenny Beth Martin is the president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.