1952 law belies our progress in sciences

America’s ingenuity continues to fund our economy, and we must protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity. Patents encourage technological advancement by providing incentives to invent, invest in and disclose new technology. Now, more than ever, it is important to ensure efficiency and increased quality in the issuance of patents. This in turn creates an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and the creation of jobs, two significant pillars in our economy.

The patent system is the bedrock of innovation. Last year alone, nearly 500,000 applications were filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the world’s leading agency for intellectual property protection. The sheer volume of patent applications not only reflects the vibrant, innovative spirit that has made America a worldwide leader in science, engineering and technology, but also reflects countless new jobs waiting to be unleashed. When patents are developed commercially, they create jobs for the companies marketing products, and for their suppliers, distributors and retailers. One such patent has positive stimulatory effects across almost all sectors of our economy.

If there’s anything that I’ve become more certain of over these past several months, it’s this: If we are to have a durable economic recovery, we must rely on our renowned American ingenuity to lead us into prosperity again. Those of us in the IP community have long known the strong connection between a robust patent system and a healthy economy.

Yet, we have not made significant updates to the patent system since 1952. Put another way, the last time the patent system was significantly changed, the structure of DNA had not been discovered; gasoline was around 27 cents a gallon; and we had not yet gone to the moon. Cell phones, MP3 players, GPS navigators and the Internet were far beyond anyone’s imagination. Technology has surpassed what anyone would have ever imagined back then, but unfortunately, our patent system has not been able to keep up with the growth in American innovation. The courts have interpreted the law in light of change, but that piecemeal process has left areas of the law unclear and out of balance — leaving some important, unresolved gaps.

If we are going to maintain our position at the forefront of the world’s economy and continue to lead the globe in innovation, then we must have an efficient and streamlined patent system that provides high-quality patents while reducing counterproductive litigation.

That is why Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and I have been working on patent reform legislation for years — three Congresses to be exact. From the outset, we had three primary goals: (1) to improve patent quality and the patent application process; (2) to improve and clarify several aspects of patent litigation, including the creation of a less expensive, more expeditious administrative alternative to litigating patent validity issues; and (3) to make the United States’s patent system, where it is useful to do so, more consistent with patent systems throughout the rest of the industrialized world.

My years of legislative experience in the U.S. Senate has not only allowed me to broker some landmark initiatives, but has also taught me some valuable lessons. Namely, legislation that endures the test of time must balance as many interests as possible. This balance must be achieved without compromising the original goals for the legislation that stem from public policy considerations. As the Patent Reform Act of 2009 continues to work its way through Congress, it is crucial that we get it right and make it the best it can be. Too much is at stake. After all, if history repeats itself, we may not revisit this issue for another five decades.

Hatch is a senior member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force.