Opinions and Editorials

Jun. 17, 2020

The Hill: Stronger Patent Rights Would Help Promote US Technological Leadership by Judge Paul Michel and Matthew Dowd

In late May, a group of bipartisan leaders from both houses of Congress introduced an important bill to restore American technological leadership. Called the Endless Frontier Act, it would boost government research and development spending by $100 billion per year in emerging technologies. This influx of funding is much needed, but the bill falls short in an important way. It does not fix a fundamental problem facing technology companies: a hobbled U.S. patent system. Fortunately, an easy solution is to combine the Endless Frontier Act with the pending bipartisan STRONGER Patents Act to ensure that U.S. innovation continues to lead the world.

In a recent USA Today opinion piece, the Endless Frontier Act’s sponsors — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) — explain that the goal of their bill is to improve “our ability to rapidly move groundbreaking ideas … to job-creating companies and, in turn, to the world’s consumers.” They correctly note that past technological advances “were spawned by public investment before the private sector brought them to consumers.” Indeed, universities and government laboratories play a vital role in early-stage innovation, which is then picked up by private-sector companies that make the necessary investments to turn the groundbreaking research into world-changing technology and consumer products.

It is that critical second stage in the innovation process that is missing from the Endless Frontier Act. In fact, most development, as well as manufacturing, is done not by government-sponsored researchers but by private companies. These companies spend many times more than government researchers could, and they convert basic science research into amazing consumer products and services.

Yet, private companies can turn research into consumer products only if their massive investments of time and money make financial sense, meaning they can expect at least a reasonable return on their investment. Without sufficient financial incentive, neither business executives nor venture capitalists can justify the investment risk. They will put their time and money elsewhere. That is where patents come into play. Reliable patent protection is almost always necessary to ensure a reasonable financial return for both the inventor and the investor.