Sometimes the problems facing our nation truly are difficult to solve. Reducing the country’s out-of-control budget deficit and fixing our broken public schools systems, for example, each took decades to grow into serious threats to America’s future. And each requires more political vision and national unity to resolve than seem to exist right now.
But other problems are not that difficult to solve, if only our leaders would choose to use some common sense. Take job creation, which is supposed to be the Number 1 policy objective in America right now. The mechanics of job creation are hardly a mystery, after all. We know, for example, that all net new job growth in America comes from startup businesses, not Big Business (see research by the Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation). And we also know that the vast majority of these startups need patents to get the funding from investors they need to start hiring people so they can develop their innovative new products and medical treatments for the public (see the Berkeley Patent Survey of Entrepreneurs).
Gene Quinn, at University of New Mexico, April 21, 2011
Patents are indeed the lifeblood of innovation. Of course, without innovation nothing else happens, or matters, but there is definitely a symbiotic relationship between innovation and patents. The innovation that we say we most want is that innovation that is cutting edge, not just an improvement upon what already exists; paradigm shifting innovation or technologies that could be characterized as disruptive in nature. It is with paradigm shifting, disruptive innovation that we see leaps forward. Those leaps forward lead to the formation of new start-up companies and frequently to the birth of entire new industries. It is with this type of highly desirable innovation that we see enormous job growth, which the U.S. economy could use right about now. Unfortunately, this type of innovation does not come cheap.
Funding for Fiscal Year 2011 has been a thorny issue for quite a while now. Congress did not pass a Fiscal Year 2011 budget in the Fall of 2010, as they are supposed to do. It is widely believed Congress punted on this responsibility because of the 2010 elections and fear of the electoral response to budget negotiations in the election cycle. That, however, lead to a series of Continuing Resolutions that funded the government on a limited basis. The last Continuing Resolution (or CR) ran out on April 8, 2011, with an 11th hour agreement, which was ultimately passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama the following week. When the dust had settled the United States Patent and Trademark Office did not fare well at all, with $100 million be diverted from the Patent Office. That lead to the Office today announcing severe austerity measures because they don’t have the funds available to operate as a going concern.
By now many have undoubtedly heard something about the ongoing budget battles on Capitol Hill. As a government shutdown was averted at the 11th hour on Friday evening, just as I predicted, attention has already started to turn to the much larger economic battles that loom, namely the vote to raise the debt ceiling and the fiscal year 2012 budget. In fact, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released the House Republican’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 early last week. The plan dubbed The Path to Prosperity already has a multitude of supporters and a multitude of critics. As this has started to unfold we will undoubtedly hear some ridiculous, half-baked comments from those who think they know better. The one that probably bothers me the most is one we hear so frequently: All we need to do is go back to the Clinton tax rates. It is amazing to me that there are those who can say this with a straight face.
On March 8, 2011, the United States Senate passed S. 23, the Senate version of patent reform, by an overwhelming vote of 95 to 5. Just about three weeks later the House Judiciary Committee unveiled the House version of patent reform. While the framework of the House bill is largely the same as the framework of the bill that achieved overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, there are some non-trivial deviations that place the likelihood of achieving patent reform squarely in doubt. The two big ticket items being kicked around as differences that threaten the entirety of patent reform are inter partes review and prior user rights. These two issues could cause a splintering of stakeholders and place us back in the limbo we have been in for the past 6 years, which would be tragic because Congress is finally poised to adequately fund the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Earlier today President Barack Obama held a press conference where he addressed the nation on the rapid increase in gas prices caused most immediately by unrest in Northern Africa and more generally as a result of the world slowly emerging from the Great Recession. After detailing a number of efforts to boost domestic oil production, including encouraging companies to pursue leased lands that are idle and possible new development efforts onshore and off-shore in Alaska, the President explained, “All of these actions can increase domestic oil production in the short and medium term, but let’s be clear: it is not a long term solution. Even if we started drilling new wells tomorrow, that oil isn’t coming online over night. Even if we tap every single reserve available to us we can’t escape the fact that we only control 2% of the world’s oil, but we consume over a quarter of the world’s oil.” President Obama even quoted T. Boone Pickens,saying: “This is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.”
President Obama delivers his weekly address on Feb. 5, 2011
In his February 5th radio address, President Obama noted that “If we make America the best place to do business, businesses should … set up shop here, and hire our workers, and pay decent wages, and invest in the future of this nation. That’s their obligation.”
I agree. But government has an obligation, too. Is it doing all it can to truly make America the best place to do business?
Consider Evergreen Solar, which until last month was one of America’s largest solar panel makers. On January 14th, it shut down its Massachusetts factory and sent 800 jobs to China. This leaves only Silicon Valley’s Solyndra making solar panels in the U.S., and it just shut down one of its two production facilities.
2010 was a terrible year to graduate from law school. The days when being sworn in as an attorney automatically yielded a dependable source of income are over. Many graduates are angry, and on some level, maybe they should be. Angry at the government for not making more progress on job creation, angry at their law schools for listing employment statistics seemingly unchanged by these economic times, and angry at themselves for taking on huge sums of non-dischargeable student loan debt in a vain quest for status.
First-year law students are told to study hard, earn that invitation onto law review, become involved in extracurricular activities, obtain real-world experience through legal externships and graduate at the top of their class. They are told that if they do these things, they will land that Associate Attorney position at a reputable law firm. I followed this advice. I earned those honors, and I am currently working, not as an attorney but in the retail industry for about minimum wage. Allow me to explain how I got here.