POLITICO: Congress: Don’t destroy the patent system in order to save it, by Paul Jacobs
This post originally appeared in Politico on October 7, 2013.
In today’s world, innovation is the key to economic growth, and it’s no accident that here in the United States innovation is thriving.
The thousands of engineers working at Qualcomm, mostly based in the U.S., pioneered the technologies that power most of the smartphones and other cellphones that connect people across the world, and every day we work to advance the next generation of wireless technology and come up with new technologies. Our mission is to invent things that improve people’s lives and find solutions to the toughest challenges facing the mobile communications industry, including ways to expand the existing cellular networks to meet the demands of a world that grows more connected every day.
But none of this would be possible without the same strong patent protection that helped bring us the light bulbs of Thomas Edison and the telegraph of Samuel Morse, Albert Loomis’ long-range navigation system that helped this country win World War II and the AIDS diagnostic kits created by Robert Gallo.
The Constitution gave Congress the power to set up the patent system with the aim of creating incentives to encourage innovation that would help a young country grow, and it’s one of the reasons we became the biggest, strongest, most competitive economy in the world.
Flash forward more than two centuries to 1985, when the seven founders of Qualcomm sat around a living room talking about ideas that could transform telecommunications and modern life. Our engineers’ inventions have turned the small, erratic and expensive system of wireless phone calls into the reliable and economical communications medium now available to people, businesses and emergency services everywhere. We figured out how to make those signals carry data, too, and then had the idea of combining the phone with a small personal computer – so the smartphone revolution was born.
But this was a risky business, and none of our success was assured when we started. There’s a lot of trial and error for any company that specializes in R&D, many wrong paths taken before we find the solution that works. We spend more than 20 percent of our revenue every year on R&D, a total of more than $23 billion over Qualcomm’s lifetime, in order to make the technologies that smartphone users across the globe now take for granted.
It was thanks to the protection of inventors rights guaranteed by patents that Qualcomm was able to attract investments that turned these ideas into reality despite all the naysayers who told us the technologies wouldn’t work. It was thanks to patents that Qualcomm was able to then offer those technologies through licensing with virtually every telecom manufacturer across the world. That allowed us to reinvest licensing revenue into inventing new and better technologies.
Patents let us transform our ideas into products that people all over the globe can use – for education, business, healthcare, banking, entertainment and so much more. As an engineer, I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to come up with an original idea, turn it into something that changes people’s lives and then see it in the hands of a total stranger who loves the invention without knowing anything about the inventor.
But as Congress considers new legislation aimed at curbing patent infringement lawsuits, I worry that patent protections are being put at risk by the unintended consequences of a rush to pass new laws.
As the CEO of a technology firm that works with companies on both sides of some headline-making patent lawsuits, I understand well the issues at stake and what Congress is trying to do. But the proposals under discussion could do a lot more harm than good. If the laws are changed to weaken patent protections, many small inventors, like university researchers and start-up innovators burning the midnight oil in their garage, could find themselves unable to protect the fruits of their hard work and investments. In addition, the value of standard essential patents should not be diminished by those who haven’t had a hand in contributing to the standard. They are leveraging the R&D investment of others to build standards compliant products which is healthy for the industry. However, arbitrarily devaluing patents to favor their own commercial interests unfairly tips the scale against the inventor. Who will make the future investments if companies like Qualcomm can’t get a fair return and stop investing and inventing?
What’s missing from the debate is the point-of-view of the inventor.
So I call on Congress to invite inventors and inventing companies to participate in any efforts to amend patent laws. Together we can find solutions to the legal problems without creating new ones, and without sacrificing a patent system that has fostered innovation and economic growth throughout our country’s history.