Patent News

Feb. 4, 2015

The Washington Times: Intellectual property is still property, by Charles J. Cooper

This post originally appeared in The Washington Times on February 4, 2015.

In three great phases, America’s economy has been transformed. Before the Civil War, we were a nation where agriculture was the dominant economic driver. Between the Civil War and the 1960s, America became the most powerful manufacturing economy in the world. Beginning in the 1960s, America’s dominance in aerospace and computing technology remade the world economy in the most fundamental way. Through it all, America’s Constitution and laws have provided risk-takers, visionaries, and men and women with a valuable idea a fundamental protection for their work: the patent.

More than 200 years ago, the Framers of the Constitution saw the value of protecting the works of America’s inventors, innovators and builders: “The Congress shall have Power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries … .” They recognized that work, even before the Industrial Revolution, didn’t just include the sweat of a man’s brow, but the value of ideas, concepts and intellectual vision. They viewed the patent as a property right, held by the inventor and protected by the government.

Now, that crucial private property right and the innovation it drives could be put at risk if special interests in Washington have their way. American innovation in software, information technology, biomedical research, and a host of other fields that represent the future of the U.S. economy would be put in grave peril by a special-interest scheme that will have devastating economic consequences.

Unfortunately, some conservatives have joined with President Obama to put the future of innovation in danger with ill-considered and ideologically driven patent “reform” proposals. In the early days of the new Congress, some conservatives may abandon their long-held views on the value and importance of private property rights and join hands with Mr. Obama to try to enact a bill that will weaken property rights and disrupt the patent system enshrined in our Constitution.

There’s a reason we use the phrase “intellectual property” when we talk about patents. The word “property” is the key. An inventor is no different from the owner of any other kind of property. Like physical property, patents can be bought, sold or utilized by the owner as he or she sees fit. Like physical property, intellectual property should rest in the hands of its creator and owner.