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Americas greatest asset is not found in its vast natural resources, or even in its great universities. The mainspring of our progress is our people’s creative genius, entrepreneurial spirit, and their willingness to invent, innovate, and change. America has led the world in revolutionary inventions such as the airplane, transistor, and microprocessor which in turn have created jobs and brought tremendous increases in our gross domestic product and uplifted our standard of living. This in large part is due to America’s recognition and protection of intellectual property.
A recent proposal puts that protection in jeopardy. In the name of harmonization, foreign governments are pressuring our government to fundamentally change the patent rules that have served us so well. Senate Bill 1854 contains some of the worst aspects of Japanese and European patent laws. It would, in essence, gut the legal protection of our most innovative citizens, disenfranchising them from the benefits, of their own creativity, a rip-off of American rights that should be opposed.
American patents are valid for 17 years after issue. They are kept confidential during the application process and cannot be contested until after issuance. Conversely, European and Japanese patents have a life of 20 years .after filing, are not confidential throughout the application process, and can be challenged throughout that process. One of the more frightening elements of this debate is that the White House is on the wrong side. According to Rufus Yerxa, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, the Clinton administration specifically advocates changing the term of patent protection from 17 years after grant to 20 years after filing an application.
In Europe and Japan, the clock starts immediately at filing, and the patent application is published shortly afterward, encouraging competitors to copy and to oppose patents. Patent applications on major innovations in Japan, for instance, are often vigorously challenged by large companies which can afford a battery of attorneys to pore over documents looking for any weaknesses. The onus is on the creator to defend his invention. Under the American system, the invention is kept confidential until the patent is is-sued, and after that the burden of proof is on the challengers to prove their case.
Similarly, when a Japanese inventor files a patent application on a major invention, it is not un-common to witness a flood of small-improvement patent applications; making minor changes in this breakthrough technology. Through this whittling-away process, the financial rewards enjoyed by the original patent holder are substantially reduced. The deflated incentives for the Japanese to invent and patent revolutionary new products has ensured that Japan has an industrial system oriented to mere incremental developments.
Today, as in yesteryear, America cannot take prosperity and progress for granted. We should absolutely not degrade our people’s patent rights in the name of harmonization with other lands. The protection of our inventors afforded by our Intellectual property laws has enabled the genius of the American inventor to develop bold new ideas and technology that have provided our workers with jobs, kept our country competitive, and maintained our high standard of living.
America has always been and should continue to be a sanctuary for individual rights. In the tradition of our greatest inventors, beginning with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, rigorous patent laws have helped to ensure the thriving successes of American innovation by protecting the rights of the individual inventor. As we move into the technological age, we must look to strengthen, not weaken, the protection rights of our most valuable resource.