Stealing Your Future

By April 20, 2006Taking It for Granted

Blog-Icon-MI.jpgIf you invested your hard-earned paychecks into a piece of property and it was securely and rightly yours, wouldn’t you be a little miffed if someone came along and took it or swiped some of your belongings right out from under your nose? You bet you would go after that thief with every tool at your disposal.

So how is that there are people around the world, including some in this country of ours, that think it would be just dandy to do the same thing to the intellectual property of companies and inventors? There is a chorus of voices that seem to pushing in that direction. Just as rampant theft of homes would put an end to investment in real estate, so too would a world without IP protection bring about an end to investment in new pharmaceuticals, new technology and many other products and processes that we take for granted today.

Yesterday we had a good primer on why intellectual property (IP) laws are such an important part of today’s innovation economy. Professor Richard Epstein presented his white paper, Intellectual Property for the Technological Age and during the roundtable here at NAM, he drew some lessons:

* radical, discontinuous change is not desirable. While there are some oddball IP cases, by and large the overall system works very well.
* no system of government mandated compulsory licenses can ever adequately replace the current system of voluntary licensing.
* the US system of “first to file” is an anomaly and out of sync with the rest of the world. Property rights would be clearer in this global economy if the US were to align its IP system in this regard with the way the rest of the world does it.
* the United States is allowing its IP “social infrastructure” to fall behind. By that, he means we are not giving the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the resources it needs to handle the surge in patent and trademark applications. An innovation society would find the means to boost these resources so they can handle the greater volume of applications and get new drugs and technologies in the marketplace sooner. One hundred years ago, it took about 35 years for a new product to come on the market to compete with a new invention. Today, it is less than 3 years, so every month that an application languishes, innovation is thwarted. Let’s not be “penny wise and pound-foolish.”