By Robert Taylor
President Biden recently warned that America is losing its technological edge. “We used to rank number one in the world in research and development,” he noted. “Now we rank number nine. China was number eight decades ago; now they are number two. And other countries are closing in fast.”
If current trends continue, our biggest geopolitical rivals will soon leave this nation in their dust in the race for technological supremacy. The blame rests largely with politicians who are working systematically and intentionally to weaken the U.S. patent system.
Patents reward innovation by giving inventors exclusive rights to their own ideas and creations for a limited period of time. Without strong, enforceable patents, there is little reason to invest billions of dollars and decades of labor bringing a new technology to the market. Why bother if a competitor, once the invention is proven to work, can simply steal the fruits of that effort and sell the same product without having to incur the cost of development?
If America is to retain its leadership in technological progress, it is imperative that our political leaders in Washington protect and strengthen the country’s patent system. Instead, however, they do precisely the opposite.
For instance, the WTO, with support from the Biden administration, suspended U.S. patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries. This decision was made, despite overwhelming evidence that it would have no beneficial impact on vaccination efforts anywhere. It does, however, diminish the incentives for American inventors to develop vaccines in the future. To make matters worse, the Biden administration is also considering whether to support the expansion of that initial waiver — and suspend IP protections for all Covid-19 therapeutics and diagnostics in developing nations!
Another recent example: 25 members of Congress asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to lower drug prices by nullifying private biotech companies’ patent licenses on certain medications. These lawmakers deliberately twist the meaning of a provision in the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act that allows HHS to relicense inventions not being commercialized by the patent licensee. Such abuse of our patent law serves only to further diminish the confidence that investors and inventors once had in the patent system.
And at a moment when our policymakers are busy dismantling America’s patent system, other nations are strengthening theirs. China has not only boosted administrative enforcement of patents in recent years, it has also increased statutory damages paid to victims of patent theft. Japan’s government recently released a comprehensive IP plan which, among other things, aims to “radically strengthen IP strategy activities.” And in 2019 and 2020, South Korea enacted policies that bolster IP protections in ways that favor patent holders.
It’s easy to understand why other nations are taking these steps. They recognize that strong and systematic patent protection is an essential ingredient to technological advancement, and they see what Washington does not — by weakening our own patent system, we create an attractive opportunity for other countries to capture the lead in science and technology that the United States has enjoyed for decades. It is a lead we may never get back.
Robert Taylor is the founder and owner of RPT Legal Strategies PC in San Francisco and Palo Alto, California. He serves on the advisory board of the Bayh-Dole Coalition and as senior counsel to the Alliance of U.S. Startups and Inventors for Jobs. This article originally appeared on InsideSources.com.