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The Role of Patents in America’s Future

In the 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama stated that innovation was the key to our success in the past as well as the key to our future as a world leader. Obama noted, “America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents for inventors and entrepreneurs.” What do patents have to do with the economy, and how can they keep America ahead?

The principal purpose of the patent system is to promote innovation. Innovations are the product of research, which can be expensive. Consider the following example: a first company spends time and money to generate an invention. Without a patent, another company can copy the invention without investing any time or money. Consequently, the second company’s costs are lower. With these lower costs, the second company can undercut the first company’s price. In this scenario, there is no reason for the first company to develop the invention in the first place.

Another option for the first company is to keep its innovations secret. In this situation, no information is made available to the public other than the goods and services sold by the first company. The first company has now protected its investments as long as it maintains secrecy. However, the secrecy relies on individuals to be discreet. More importantly, no information is made available to the scientific community. Scientific development is a process that increases the collective knowledge. When scientific advances are not contributed to the collective knowledge, additional research becomes highly limited.

The patent system seeks to strike a balance by rewarding innovators with a period of monopoly in exchange for their disclosure of information to the public. In this way, the inventor’s investment is protected, giving him a reason to engage in research and development. Furthermore, the scientific community is still able to benefit from that research and development. On a large scale, scientific advancement is able to progress quickly, creating jobs, prosperity, industries, and prestige along the way.

An individual inventor should understand that the rules of the patent system are designed to promote disclosure. The system also imposes penalties that can jeopardize your rights for noncompliance. These penalties are also designed to prevent inventors from obtaining a monopoly without making the expected contribution to society. An experienced patent attorney understands the complex rules and procedures of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Please consider our office in the Los Angeles area if you need guidance in navigating these rules and procedures.

Written by
Dan Cotman
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