Few would dispute that the American economy is still in need of a serious boost. Some are more hopeful than others about the future, but the fact remains that our economy shrank in the first quarter of this year. This is concerning for those of us who know that our economic policies affect every aspect of our lives, especially the wellbeing of what I consider the first unit of growth for our country: the family.
The family unit is the bedrock of our society and economic instability is devastating to it.
This is why it is puzzling to read that the House of Representatives is seriously considering a bill that could diminish the national patent system. The “Innovation Act” places excessive burdens on patent holders seeking to protect their intellectual property. That means that foreign infringers would have a much easier time avoiding punishment for copying American designs.
Don’t miss the obvious in the technical jargon. Innovation is key to economic growth. There is a reason patents and copyrights are protected in the Constitution. Article 1, section 8 says in its relevant part: “The Congress shall have Power To...promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries...”
The Founders thought it very important that inventors, individuals like you and me that come up with great innovative ideas, be protected to be able to promote and market their ideas. Patent holders are guaranteed the right to own and sell their ideas without competition for a pre-set period of time. This will in turn promote more innovation, which drive economic growth.
But the “Innovation Act” before Congress seems to do the exact opposite by making it harder for the small inventors to protect their inventions and making it easier for those with means, like big corporations or foreign entities, to infringe on their patents.
Foreign attacks on American intellectual property are increasingly common. Federal prosecutors recently charged six Chinese citizens with stealing trade secrets from U.S. technology firms. One of the defendants, a professor at a prestigious Chinese university, had spent years working in Silicon Valley.
Instead of combating this scourge, federal lawmakers could soon make it worse. They need to scrap this bill and start over.
If not, they risk diminishing the incentive to innovate, greatly stifling economic growth. After all, why invest the time and money into developing a new product or service when a competitor can easily rip off the idea once it hits the market?
The "Innovation Act" -- is well intentioned. It's meant to crack down on patent "trolls" -- people who collect broad patents simply to sue inventors for "infringing" on an obvious idea.
But the “Innovation Act” goes overboard by making it too hard to enforce legitimate patents claims.
For instance, the Act requires inventors to file huge amounts of new paperwork if they want to protect their patent in court. The bill also adds multiple new layers of rules and procedures for patent litigation, making it more likely that lawsuits will drag on for months or even years. This is, of course, much more burdensome for small businesses and individual inventors.
The Act also requires patent holders to make public all manner of detailed information about their business, including information guarded by confidentiality agreements or pertaining to sensitive business dealings. This is worrisome, especially in light of how this information can be exploited by international opportunists.
Ultimately, these "reforms" will discourage small innovators from defending their intellectual property in courts. The process will have become too expensive and time-consuming. And a crucial part of our economy will be dealt a devastating blow.
Foreign and multinational companies will ramp up their patent violations, since American innovators won't have the practical legal power to stop them. Already, intellectual property theft committed by foreign companies costs U.S. businesses over $300 billion a year, according to a report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property.
Congress shouldn't be looking for ways to degrade American patent protections. It should be strengthening them. Doing so will cut down on infringement, stoke innovation, drive economic growth, and protect inventors' Constitutional rights.
In fact, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that even modest improvements in intellectual property enforcement against China -- which commits up to 80 percent of intellectual property theft -- could create as many as two million American jobs and add over $60 billion to the economy.
Foreign agents are ramping up their efforts to steal American intellectual property. The Innovation Act would aid and abet their efforts. Patents are the legal backbone of American ingenuity, etched into the founding documents of our country. They are crucial to our economic growth and stability; and therefore, essential for the wellbeing of the family unit. They shouldn't be compromised.
Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.