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Policy protection of IP critical to nation’s competitiveness

The health of American manufacturing – the jobs it creates and the products it produces – has long been a benchmark to gauge our nation’s economic prowess. But if we want this sector to thrive, policymakers must do more to accelerate the technologies that enable manufacturing to compete in an ever-more complex, competitive world. And that requires strong protections of corporate intellectual properties.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the confidence and protection instilled by U.S. patent and trademark laws was a boon for American manufacturing, allowing for the broad introduction of new methods and processes and created a local preference for deployment of innovation. Throughout our nation’s industrial history this example has proven that federal action can ignite economic opportunity.

{mosads}The time is ripe now to revisit how intellectual property policies must evolve to advance innovation and economic opportunity in the 21st century.

With today’s market uncertainties – triggered by rapid globalization, increased workforce mobility and a greater reliance on automation – predictability in the legal system for protection of trade secrets is more important than ever to strengthening America’s manufacturing base. 

And there’s good news. 

Congress has come together, working across the aisle, to pass the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA). The law was passed unanimously by the Senate, soared through the House, and was quietly signed into law in May. The law delivers a direct pathway to the federal court system to protect trade secrets – a legal extension with profound implications for risk takers and technology pioneers, especially those in the manufacturing sector. No longer will the jurisdiction for enforcement of trade secret protections require lengthy debate or involve uncertainty. Now, industrial trade secrets will have similar access to the federal court system as patents and trademarks.

The law – although passing beneath the radar of mainstream media – has reinforced among entrepreneurs that their manufacturing secrets are recognized by policymakers as bedrock to America’s ability to innovate and compete globally.

Promising startups cannot afford to get caught in the morass of litigation to protect their secrets, as an expensive marathon of state jurisdictional challenges can easily kill companies before their ideas can flourish. Newfound access to federal courts provides a more resilient defense of trade secrets, creating a legal system that favors risk taking – a condition necessary to keep our nation at the forefront of innovation.

As an entrepreneur in the work to build a new age of American manufacturing, I’ve experienced firsthand how policy can both create and break down barriers that foster innovation and competitiveness. And nowhere is this more evident than in the business of metals manufacturing – a legacy industry where current practices were founded more than a century ago. For innovators, the prospect of reinventing these conventional manufacturing processes is fraught with impediments.

While the passage of DTSA establishes more safeguards for the future of US manufacturing, it is only the beginning, especially if policymakers want to architect a framework that not only protects ideas, but also propels them. And metals manufacturing is an industry ready to be reimagined, requiring fresh policy considerations to shape its future outlook.

Since the advent of large-scale aluminum production at the turn of the last century, metallurgy has realized only incremental advancement. A major contributor to this stagnation is the sector’s approach to product specification. Instead of standardizing metals based on performance – its degree of strength, toughness and corrosion prevention – today’s criteria instead describes processing methods and chemical compositions of metal alloys. This approach, which assumes innovation will come in a predictable form, complicates the adoption of disruptive manufacturing methods.

If we can take action together, breaking silos of political and industrial tradition, the opportunities could be tremendous. By challenging the status quo and revisiting antiquated standards, we could usher in radical new metals – safer, stronger, lighter and better materials. And, if we’re lucky, put America at the forefront of a metals renaissance, creating skilled labor and a stronger economy.

What makes America unique is its legacy of ingenuity and ability to harbor entrepreneurship. But to maintain our edge, policy must be nimble and agile, acting swiftly to incentivize risk takers and incubate new sectors. The world is changing rapidly and our policies absolutely must keep up or run the risk of serving as an anchor to the realization of new opportunities.

The passing of DSTA was a much-welcomed sign from Congress – a bipartisan recognition that good policy is needed to drive next-generation solutions, services and products.

Christina Lomasney is CEO of Modumetal, a company that manufactures a new class of nanolaminated metals.


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