Written By: Lawrence A. Maxham
There is a longstanding story, likely apocryphal, that in the late 1800’s, the Commissioner of Patents said he was going to resign because everything worth inventing had been invented (the sewing machine, the cotton gin, telegraphy, and on and on). And yet, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently issued patent number 11,000,000, and currently issues more than 6,000 patents every Tuesday. With the world being more and more connected, about half of the inventions that are patented by the USPTO are for non-US owners. While the Commissioner may have felt that everything of value had been invented, we can look back with hindsight with knowing smiles at just how much further the limits of the human imagination for innovation were about to be pushed. Innovation is America’s backbone and the patent system is its biggest contributor/driving force to creating a strong American future. American businesses have led and will continue to lead the way throughout the world in creating and producing life saving and life enhancing products and innovations like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medical devices, and digital technology.
It is the strong US patent system that has led to and fostered innovation in the US that has enabled the US to be the innovation and technology leader of the world for more than 100 years. And that patent system was spawned directly from the amazing foresight of the US founding fathers. In Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, the Constitution gives Congress the 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.”
A patent gives the right, to its owner, to prevent others from infringing on what the patent specifically covers. The US patent system encourages people to innovate, that is, improve over what has been invented, and seek the rights granted by a patent as their reward for making known to the public what it is they have invented and how to do what the inventors have done. This crucial insight by the founding fathers over the right to ownership over one’s intellectual property contributed to confidence in investing in American innovation.
Today it is apparent that this tradition of American innovation and investment thereof continues to be one of our greatest strengths. That the limits of American imagination have yet to be reached as we head further into the 21st century and see demands for new technologies. Everything has not been invented and ever changing circumstances shift the needs for advancement and production as was seen during the Covid-19 pandemic. As an immediate example,the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) reached an explosive level in 2020. Interestingly, companies were in the PPE business long before that. People working in dangerous areas have required protective gear for many decades. Think hard hats, transparent face masks (welders, power line workers), body protectors (first responders), among others. Having worked firsthand on several PPE patents it was still incredible to see the boom within that technology area and how responsive it was to such a gigantic shift in requirements.
The ability to protect innovations with patents has spurred advances in the medical device field. Hundreds of medical procedures have been invented and improved upon in the last 50 years. Heart pacers are many times better, in many ways, than when they were an urgent, important, and novel device. Operations on knees, hips, spines, hearts, and more, are now more precise, quicker, and more effective than even ten years ago (as well as better, cheaper, and faster). Having worked on medical device patents over the past several decades has afforded me insights and appreciation for the significance of patents in the medical device field.
As we progress through the next decades, Americans will continue to advance an array of fields in ways we can yet imagine. However, on the horizon we can anticipate whole new areas of technology, as well as incredible achievements in new areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, quantum computing, improvement and advancement of the internet and cloud technologies, wearable devices, and cryptocurrency. Biotechnology has been with us now for about 40 years and its future is all but infinite. Working with people in their incredibly creative modes has been extremely exciting and rewarding for me. I look forward to working on creations that have not even been considered yet.
The US patent system gives creative people and companies the incentive to constantly improve on everything we use, or are in some way exposed to, every day. Without incentive, people tend to accept what is and have little urge to make things better. The founding fathers had a vision for patent rights that would incentivize US citizens to invest in research and development that could eventually lead to economic benefits and advancements for the burgeoning country. As a result of this vision, the US has a thriving patent system that has, indeed, led to some of the world’s greatest innovations and it continues to expand beyond the scope of our current imaginations in hundreds of areas of endeavor. The future of the US patent system is a bright one. I look forward to continue representing creative people and companies as they contribute to the backbone of American innovation.
If you have questions about your intellectual property please call us at 760-975-3843 or e-mail us today and we’ll be happy to set up a consultation with you to discuss your next steps. We are available for virtual and in-person meetings.