With some adjustments, America’s patent system can reclaim its gold standard status

With some adjustments, America’s patent system can reclaim its gold standard status
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The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) recognized a milestone of human ingenuity this week that perhaps even the Founding Fathers’ never anticipated: granting the 10 millionth patent.

The Founding Fathers who drafted the Constitution understood that strong, enforceable inventor rights are necessary “[t]o promote the progress of science and useful arts,” and went on to establish the U.S. patent system in 1790. Since then, intellectual property protections have been the driver of America’s unique culture of innovation.   

Without these strong patent rights, the financing to take revolutionary biotechnology discoveries from the lab to the patient, farmer, or consumer would be unavailable. The weakening of these patent rights threatens new investment in the innovation sector of our economy and, with it, the jobs and industries of the future.


Research and development within the biotechnology industry is expensive and each potential cure or product is saddled with a much greater risk of failure than success. Investment in these new medicines is based on an expected return in the form of patent-protected products or services that ultimately reach the market. The typical biotech company does not have a product on the market, nor a steady source of revenue, and spends tens of millions of dollars on research and development (R&D) annually.

Unfortunately, changes to our patent laws over the last 15 years, through legislation, agency actions, and court decisions, have severely weakened our patent system. Although it was once considered the gold standard for the rest of the world, in the latest global survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, our patent system was rated only 12th in the world, behind nations like Singapore, France, and South Korea.

For these reasons, currently-pending corrective legislation is critical to the future success of the biotech business model. The bipartisan STRONGER Patents Act (H.R. 5340, S. 1390) would address many of the deficiencies in the patent re-examination process, protect patent holders and others from predatory demand letters, and ensure that fees paid to the PTO are not diverted to other government functions.

Every biotech executive has stories to tell about promising experimental compounds that had very favorable medicinal or industrial properties but were never developed because their patent protection was too uncertain. The systemic uncertainty created by the current patent review system can profoundly impact which new cures and products may become available a decade from now.

The average American today can realistically hope to live into her eighth decade. At retirement, one out of five Americans can expect to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The risk of those same people developing cancer is even greater. Through better calibration, America’s patent system can reclaim its gold standard status.

It is critical that the future path of our patent system is one that preserves and maintains the incentives for innovation that have made the United States the global leader in medical, agricultural, and environmental biotechnology.

James C. Greenwood is the president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), which represents 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers, and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 countries worldwide. Greenwood represented Pennsylvania's eighth district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2005. Prior to his election to Congress, Greenwood served six years in the Pennsylvania General Assembly (1981-86) and six years in the Pennsylvania Senate (1987-1992).