Celebrating Inventors’ Day by protecting strong patents

Inventors’ Day is usually a day to celebrate innovation, but this year it is also a day to defend innovation and entrepreneurs, and push back against members of Congress who are proposing to weaken our patent system, undermine property rights, and harm job creators in our country.    

Inventors depend on a strong patent system to ensure our ideas and innovations are protected and have a chance to go from idea to product, which also means jobs. While we celebrate inventors today and highlight the fact that our Founding Fathers created a patent system and literally enshrined it in the Constitution, we are in danger of undermining this very fragile system in the hunt to stamp out a few bad actors.

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To quote President Abraham Lincoln: “Before [the adoption of the United States Constitution], any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.” 

While new patent legislation has quickly emerged as an issue that some in Congress hope to address this year, their motivation for doing so is still largely unclear.  Supporters of new legislation claim to want to protect small innovators, but the bills they are considering assume that innovators are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent. They claim to support small businesses under attack by onerous demand letters, but the bill they are considering in the House of Representatives doesn’t include a single provision targeted at demand letters.  And they claim to support small entrepreneurs, but they have failed to ask even one small entrepreneur to testify at any hearings held on the legislation.

In fact, when the primary supporters of the bills speak openly about inventors it quickly becomes apparent that they don’t even support innovation.  For example, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate to vote on two gun bills Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Post Orlando, hawks make a power play MORE (R-Texas), the primary Senate supporter of new patent legislation, recently said: “Patents are original, non-intuitive ideas from people skilled in the art, but what brings success is not the idea… Anyone can go in and say, 'I saw it on Star Trek, now I'm going to put a patent on it--and then sue the company that brings it to market.' But that execution, that is what people are really investing in ... more so than the creation of ideas." 

As noted above, I think our Founding Fathers and Lincoln would disagree with Senator Cornyn’s notion that the creation of ideas doesn’t deserve protection.  What would be an interesting follow up question for the senator is if he believes in private property?  Most conservatives would be appalled to come out against private property rights and the ability of individuals to protect their creations. To put this in a way that the Texas senator may understand- when an oilman thinks about putting in an oil well, he considers the potential production at the site, but nothing matters unless he has deed to the land or at least the mineral rights for the land. What the senator is proposing in the legislation that he supports is like weakening land deeds. It is anti-conservative, but most importantly it is anti-economic growth.  

As an inventor myself, and as a representative of other small inventors, I know that taking an idea from paper or prototype to business is both expensive and risky. The only way to convince an inventor or those funding inventors to attempt the transition is to provide the assurance that when someone takes the risk, and puts their money and savings on the line, that they can then defend their idea and protect it when someone tries to take it. 

Supporters of new legislation may be well intentioned, but in reality their efforts will weaken our patent system and undermine an open and transparent process that has been the backbone of innovation and job creation in this country for over 200 years.  Without strong patent protection guarantees, there will be less innovation and the United States will begin losing its innovative edge.

So as we celebrate Inventors’ Day this year, let’s remember to protect our nation’s innovators instead of demeaning them by comparing them to thieves.

Sauer is president of E4Growth.

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