This past Sunday there was a brief but very interesting segment on Fox New Sunday that actually discussed the plight of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and how the enormous backlog of inventions in the queue at the USPTO is preventing organic job growth at a time when our economy desperately needs job creation. Sitting in for Chris Wallace was Brett Baier. He was interviewing Mark Zandi, who is Chief Economist for Moody’s Analytics, and Liz Claman, an anchor on the Fox Business News channel. The topic for this 11:54 second segment was the health of the U.S. economy and what can and should be done by our leaders in Washington, DC. Surprisingly, at least to me, Claman brought up the USPTO as an ideal opportunity for “instant stimulus.”
The entire segment can be seen below, but the relevant part of this segment for our purposes runs from approximately 5:25 to 6:25. Just a minute, but when a pundit and news anchor starts raising this on the network’s prime Sunday morning political show it seems that perhaps the message is starting to get through, and we have Chief Judge Paul Michel to thank for that!
For those who won’t watch for one reason or another, allow me to provide the transcript for Claman’s take on the Patent Office and job creation.
I doubt that the U.S. public has a real appetite any more for a big chunk of stimulus going in, but there were missed opportunities here Brett. You could argue that the prevailing wisdom is that what really creates jobs, what would create jobs, is small businesses and brand new businesses that are just starting up, but they cannot start up if there is a bunch of red tape. Now the Obama Administration put in some ideas, such as tax incentives if you hire unemployed workers – fine. But what company, what entrepreneur out there is going to want to actually start a brand new business if it is too onerous? For example, the U.S. Patent Office; there was an op-ed in the New York Times written by a Federal Judge and an entrepreneur who said there are 1.2 million patents; ideas that are just stuck in this backlog because the process takes it 5 years to get it approved. If all of these ideas were approved then venture capital, these are the guys who seed these businesses, would give money to them, start it up and they would start hiring. For every brand new business you would get 3 to 10 workers hired. Why not? Instant stimulus.
I have been writing about a patent stimulus for the last 18 months. See, for example:
- Job Creation 101: Unleash the Patent Office to Create Jobs (May 2010)
- Proposal: Unlocking Job Growth with Patent Acceleration (May 2010)
- Reich’s Reality Doesn’t Have to Be True with Help from Commerce (April 2010)
- Innovation Held Hostage by the Patent Office (June 2009)
- Saving US Innovation: More Patent Funding Needed (June 2009)
- More Funding Needed for Patent Granting Authority (May 2009)
- Revise Patent Examination to Stimulate US Economy (April 2009)
- Patent Stimulus to Solve Great Depression II (March 2009)
- Innovation Will Lead Recovery if Patent System Allows (March 2009)
I am sure I haven’t been the only one beating this drum. I know for a fact that everywhere that USPTO Director David Kappos goes he talks about how the Patent Office could and should be playing a vital role in creating jobs, but sadly is unable to do so as a result of inadequate funding and nearly two decades of mismanagement. In fact, prior to Kappos I suspect most patent attorneys would say that the USPTO was management properly for only 3 years between 1992 and 2009; namely the time Q. Todd Dickinson was Director from 1999-2001 and the time that Nick Godici was Acting Director in 2001. But despite the common knowledge in the industry and the pleadings of Director Kappos, nothing could get through… until now!
With the retirement of Chief Judge Michel the patent community seems to have acquired a secret weapon, and one that remained closely veiled in a black robe for over two decades. Due to ethical rules that govern federal judges Chief Judge Michel, like all other judges, couldn’t really take a position on most things, at least until his recent retirement on May 31, 2010. So in a strange plot twist, Chief Judge Michel has turned into a bit of a super hero only after removing the black robe, finally being able to speak his mind freely.
Kappos and the Patent Office were lobbying for additional funding for many months and recently Congress granted the USPTO the authority to keep an additional $129 million of the fees it will collect in FY 2010. That success probably cannot be credited to Judge Michel, but now two weekends in a row major news outlets have spent time on the Patent Office crisis, and Liz Claman specifically cited Chief Judge Michel and Hank Nothhaft, the CEO of Tessera, who together co-wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (see Inventing Our Way Out of Joblessness). It is not far fetched to point out that has Chief Judge Michel not stepped down he wouldn’t have been able to write that op-ed article, and had he not written that op-ed article with Nothhaft I doubt that the New York Times would have given any page space and CBS two weekends ago wouldn’t have run a story (see Major Media Tunes into Patent Crisis) and Claman certainly wouldn’t have mentioned it on the prime Fox News policy wonk Sunday show.
When I interviewed Chief Judge Michel he didn’t think it would be possible to motivate the masses to care about patent issues, but that he was going to try and motive Legislators to do the right thing. He told me: “[t]he people who can motivate [Congress] are the key journalists and the key business community leaders. So they’re the two groups that I’m going to try to proselytize, in my new job as a public nuisance #1.” See Judge Michel II: Public Nuisance #1 Proselytizing for Patents. I would say that Chief Judge Michel is off to a great start!
Chief Judge Michel also told me that he might be interested in starting a think tank, and given his track record of bringing more attention to the plight of the Patent Office, innovation and entrepreneurship in just a few months than the rest of us combined have been able to bring to bear in years; I say sign him up!
The truth is we need more of our leaders, both current leaders and retired leaders like Chief Judge Michel, to step up and be heard. We can all count and see the enormity of the debt that we are passing on to unborn generations, stimulus after stimulus, borrowing more and more from foreign governments to feed our habit. Yet we have in our midst the ability to jump start this non-existent recovery by getting patents issued and tapping into the vast wealth in the hands of individuals. By giving venture capitalists who have high risk tolerance a reason to invest in exciting new technologies those high paying technology jobs that our leaders talk so freely about will actually be created.
The best part of a patent stimulus is that we aren’t even talking about crazy money, not at least by Washington, DC standards anyway. $1 or $ 2 billion to get the patent system back on track to pave the road for the future of technology in the United States is a bargain! Even better, the Patent Office runs a user fee system, so none of this has to be taxpayer money! Just let the Patent Office set, collect and keep fees as long as they reinvest in hiring or Office infrastructure. To jump start things why not return all fees confiscated by the Congress form the user fee generated Patent Office since 1992, which is close to $800 million.
Yes, as the result of siphoning off user fees from the USPTO our brilliant leaders in Washington, DC, have since 1992 imposed a national innovation tax to the tune of $800 million. Not only have they imposed this ridiculous tax, at the same time they watched the decline of the Patent Office and stalling of our innovation based economy, which is unconscionable. But still there remains a patent stimulus that would not require a single dime of taxpayer funds, yet our leaders aren’t interested. Sadly our national leaders do not really seem serious about innovation, technology or the United States Patent Office, and that is why we have to sound the alarm and make them notice and do the right thing, whether as a result of obligation or embarrassment.