EDITORIAL NOTE: What follows is a letter to Congress from Gary K. Michelson, MD, published here with permission.
As Abraham Lincoln said “The Patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius”.
Many inventions allow a worker to be more productive. That is to provide more service or more product with no increase in the work performed. For example in the era of the building of the great canals in America steam shovels appeared such that one man and such a machine (an invention) could displace 100 men with shovels. Similarly a large room full of typists with typewriters were replaced by a single person with a word processor (an invention) who was then capable of turning out an unlimited supply of originals.
Now the paradox. While it is clear from the preceding examples that a given worker’s productivity was increased it would also seem that many others should have become unemployed. Yet our real world experience contradicts that expectation. Not so long ago this country enjoyed what economists labeled as “full employment”. That is there were more jobs available than there were skilled workers to fill them.
In his recent State of the Union Address the President had this part right. New Innovations create the opportunity for high paying jobs and education fills them.
At the heart of all of this as noted by President Lincoln is the United States patent system. Companies both large and small will not create these jobs nor invest their time, money, and resources into uncertainty. Investment in these job creating new technologies requires that all parties are motivated to invest their own time and resources into developing them and that they will then be rewarded with the certainty that only a certificate of intellectual property rights (a patent) can convey.
The United States patent system with its origins in the constitution of the United States has now stood for more than two centuries as a guiding light to the rest of the world. But, it is a rapidly changing world and the United States, without hyperbole, is in serious danger of being left behind. Looking inward the damage to the United States economy including the failures to have job formation from a U.S.P.T.O. that has not been fully modernized to function at its best is incalculable.
And now for the good news. No one has their hand out. No one is asking Congress for money. No one is asking to place one more burden on the American tax payer.
All that is required at this time is to give the U.S.P.T.O. fee setting authority, end diversion (since the U.S.P.T.O. is fee funded, diverting funds from the U.S.P.T.O. to the general ledger is quite literally a tax on innovation), and to modify the rules by which the U.S.P.T.O. operates to allow it to stand on an equal footing with the other economic powers of the world.
For example, first to invent versus first to file is the proverbial tempest in a teacup (smaller than a teapot). All sound and fury signifying nothing. The low cost and ease of filing a provisional patent application (a placeholder for the first to invent) should render any discussion of fairness moot. I believe that first to file is both fair and beneficial to all inventors; and is an important change to correctly position the U.S.P.T.O. as the leader in what will become a worldwide patent system.
Though late in this letter, by way of introduction, my name is Gary Michelson. I am a Board Certified Orthopedic Spinal Surgeon. I have some 250 issued United States Patents and at last count over 950 issued or pending patent applications throughout the world. Millions of Americans have benefited from my inventions which have included new procedures, implants, and surgical instruments that have made spinal surgery faster, safer, more effective and less expensive. Many jobs were created in the manufacturing and sale of these inventions. The productivity of those who benefited from these innovations was also improved. In some instances people who were in wheelchairs collecting disability payment s were restored to a level of function where they were able to leave their wheelchairs behind and return to work.
Finally I am an independent inventor who has greatly benefited from the United States patent system. I support the pending patent legislation before you and would urge you to do the same.
I am fully available to you or your staff to discuss any aspect of this matter.