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Senate must rework reform bill to protect patent system and avoid unintended consequences

The Senate must work diligently to agree on better language that addresses system abusers without elbowing out small business and entrepreneurs. 

Without wise patent reform action, the United States threatens to lose the innovative edge President Obama praised during his State of the Union speech.
REUTERS/Larry Downing

In President Obama’s State of the Union Address, he made it clear that the nation with the greatest investment in innovation will lead the global economy. He cautioned that it is “an edge America cannot surrender.” Unfortunately, pending patent legislation before Congress would do just that – stifle innovation and threaten our nation’s global competitiveness. This caught my attention, as I have a patented commercial kitchen product that has a promising future, in part if we can protect our patents. 

When we think of all the innovative technologies and modern conveniences of our daily lives today, most Americans do not stop to consider the inventors and start-up companies who make them possible. Yet the very advances that ensure our place as leaders in the global economy – from smart phones and breakthrough cancer treatments to light bulbs and the microwave oven – were all made possible because of the patent system first envisioned in our Constitution that both incentivized inventors to invent and protected the fruit of their labor, giving them the ability to compete against rivals at home and abroad.

This is even more important to our nation’s future than most of us realize. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65 percent of today’s grade-school children will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented. What is at stake is a future we cannot even grasp yet.

Patents fuel the economy

These patents, made possible through our current system, are fueling our economy and will continue to do so in the future. Every job in one way or another produces, supplies, consumes or hinges on innovation. Countless industries benefit from intellectual property, and we all benefit from economic stimulus and surety provided by patents. According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, the IP industry generated an astounding 40 million jobs in 2010 alone, or 27.7 percent of all jobs in our economy.

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Despite good intentions, it stands to reason that a scramble in the Senate to pass patent reform legislation has put many stakeholders on tilt as universities, engineers, small businesses, manufacturers, venture capitalists, inventors and judges read between the lines: These legislative proposals as written will shift power from everyday inventors and small businesses to larger, better financed companies.

The Senate must work diligently to agree on better language that addresses system abusers without elbowing out small business and entrepreneurs, arguably the most critical players – creating millions of jobs each year – in our innovative economy. Policymakers should take this opportunity to enact patent legislation that will allow our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not the threat of costly litigation. The dire need to develop consensus on a proposal that will promote progress for the full range of American innovation, from start-ups to large corporations, will take time and careful understanding.

Resist big-business and special-interest pressure

For more than 200 years, our patent system has fueled innovation in this country. Today that same system remains the envy of the world. As the Senate sorts through the complexities of the issue, pressure from big businesses and special interests should not cloud the importance of strong patents or the merit of preserving a system of everyday inventors and entrepreneurs like me, which is what our forefathers envisioned.

It is not a race to the finish line, but rather an exercise of caution to avoid unintended consequences and make well-informed improvements while preserving the best patent system in the world. The state of our patent system is strong and should not be weakened.

Ryan Bruns is an inventor from Walker, Minn., who has worked in the robotics and automation industry for the past 10 years.

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