The Subcommittee on Energy and Power held hearings earlier this month on “The American Energy Initiative.” The hearings provided an overview of the challenges and opportunities for alternative transportation fuels and vehicles. The hearing explored a number of issues, including the current status of the Renewable Fuel Standard, and implementation challenges facing regulators, producers, and marketers of renewable fuels. The hearing also discussed the prospects for meeting future conventional and advanced biofuels targets under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and issues related to their incorporation into the gasoline supply, as well as the current status of efforts to expand the use of natural gas and electric vehicles, the cost of driving, the economy, jobs, and national security.
Counterfeiting and the theft of intellectual property rights is not just a matter for companies. Such theft, or piracy as it is frequently referred to, is a major issue for the United States government. Over the years the piracy problem has continued to grow in importance in both trade relations and in the war against organized crime and terrorists. The United States needs to do what it can to prevent intellectual property theft because of the negative impact it has on job creation and our economy. It is also imperative to shut off the flow of easy money to criminal enterprises. Without money they become starved for resources, a big strategy in the fight against global terror.
On May 5, 2011, in prepared remarks in a speech to commemorate World Intellectual Property Day, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke acknowledged that much still needs to be done regarding theft of intellectual property around the globe. Secretary Locke said: “[W]hen over 80 percent of all software installed on computers in China is counterfeit and when first-run movies continue to appear on rogue web sites as soon as they show up in the theaters – then we know the problem is still grave.”
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.”