Acting quickly isn’t always wise especially when you are considering changes to the US patent system. In 2011, swift changes were made with little or no input from the inventor community and we are on the same path again as Congress looks to pass additional reforms.
The truth is, our patent system has been and remains the backbone of the American economic engine, and it is the reason we have many of the innovations that exist today. Unfortunately, patents are under fire, and our policy makers are being asked to approve federal legislation without fully understanding the ramifications.
As a physician, I see the benefits of our patent system every day. While most of us do not give patents the credit when we take Penicillin or get an x-ray, without them, and more specifically the incentives — and protections — of our patent system, these innovations may not exist. The fact that minimally invasive robotics in the operating room can today remove a kidney through a naval, is proof that we are advancing at rapid speeds, with limitless opportunities.
Senate Bill 1720 would create obstacles to innovation, by limiting investor options and making it more expensive for small investors defending their patents. Those obstacles could mean the difference between bringing a new, life-saving device to market and not taking the time or spending the money to even start down that path.
The investments necessary to develop patent-worthy technology are substantial, and individuals with an idea and the motivation to realize it need to have some assurance that their time and investment could be worth the cost. Without patents, the fruits of inventive labor could be easily exploited, diminishing any incentive to take a risk on innovation.
It is because of patents that we have better cancer treatments, options for children with hearing problems and medications that treat diseases that only a few years ago would have been considered a terminal diagnosis.
Our patent system has worked effectively for more than 225 years. It has brought us invaluable invention that has helped to prolong lives, made us healthier or at least more comfortable, and undeniably improved the quality of our lives.
In Connecticut, patents are a significant part of our workforce and driver of economic activity. According to the Kauffmann Foundation New Economy 2010 Report, Connecticut ranked 14th in the nation in high-tech jobs, 15th in patents and 22nd in entrepreneurial activities.
That emphasis on protecting intellectual property, and supporting future discovery, has set Connecticut, and the nation apart. The United States is a global leader in health and technology, and our scientists are hard at work defending that position each and every day—working on things that most of us can’t even begin to understand.
While we hear stories about businesses struggling to fend off “patent trolls,” we must not make changes to the system that will result in hampering creative ideas. We must be careful to deal with the issue of “patent trolls,” and not hastily incorporate broad changes to the entire system that will ultimately harm legitimate patent holders. It is a balancing act and one that most not be taken lightly. Now, more than ever, we must continue to protect inventors and the investors who support their discoveries with strong patent laws that guarantee their intellectual property will not be compromised. It is this approach that will ensure that incredible advancements in technology can continue to be made and help in saving a life or improving the quality of another.
So the next time you visit the doctor or head to your medicine cabinet, stop and think about what went in to the treatment you are about to receive. Many, if not all have relied on the protections afforded by our patent system. As policy makers struggle to make changes to a system with a tremendous historical track record, I urge them to consider the consequences of weakening our patent system.
Dr. Steven B. Levine is an Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine and Immediate Past President, Connecticut Ear, Nose & Throat Society.