To the editor,
Your articles in the April 20 edition of EE Times ["Dealing with Mad Patent Disease"] which portray the U.S. patent system as broken and worse seem terribly biased. I wonder where you are getting your information. Surely you don't have any direct experience with patents, e.g. using a patent to protect a money making invention, or you would be able to formulate a more balanced viewpoint.
The patent system could use some tweaking but it is far from the "mad patent disease" you describe. The U.S. needs a stronger patent system, not weaker as the so-called patent reform pundits are trying to put into place. I suggest you check out the other side of the story. [The letter notes articles by Dan Leckrone of TPL Group here and here.]
It is said that those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it. In the '60's and '70's the U.S. suffered one of the worst assaults on its economy in the century. That assault, resulted in the wholesale ruin of the U.S. steel, automotive, electronics and many other manufacturing industries.
The culprit in the press was Japan with its lower wages and higher efficacy manufacturing. Japan, it was said, could manufacture more cheaply than the U.S., absorb shipping costs for both raw materials and finished products and still sell cheaper and turn a profit. And it could, but very few bothered to ask why.
The reason behind the sudden rise to manufacturing power was not that Japan all of a sudden figured it out, rather it was our own Federal Trade Commission! Armed with a misguided left-wing mandate to reign in the market power of U.S. corporate giants under antiquated and misguided anti-monopoly laws, the FTC forced and/or intimidated hundreds of large US corporations to give patent licenses to all comers for next to nothing. Within a decade the best U.S. IP which was developed over the preceding decade at a cost of millions was, under pressure from the FTC, given to all comers including the Japanese.
Without investing a cent in research and development Japanese manufacturing companies could copy products, manufacturing technology, skills and methods. The result was the swift and sure demise of the ability of various U.S. industries including steel (US Steel, Republic Steel), automobiles (Ford, GM, Chrysler), copier technology (Xerox), cameras (Kodak, Polaroid).
Within a few short years, the FTC's disastrous policy had gift-wrapped most of the US' best innovation and given it to the Japanese resulting in the disastrous decline in US manufacturing we see today. For more details please read "The Invisible Edge: Taking you Strategy to the Next Level Using Intellectual Property," (Portfolio, March 2009). Copies are available online.
Today the one remaining industry that thrives in the U.S. is innovation. That innovation, often the product of one or two lone engineers working on their own, drives an entire industry including venture capital funding, intellectual property protection, investment bankers and initial public offering brokerages. The innovation generates hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributes great sums of money to the U.S. economy.
The only way that innovation, and its industry, can be protected is with intellectual property, i.e. patents. To weaken the patent system at the urging and benefit of a few large multinational corporations (most of which have been found guilty in court of stealing the property of others) runs the risk of destroying that one remaining thriving U.S. industry.
J. C. Cooper, Director, Pixel Instruments Corp. (Los Gatos, CA)