“The patent system our founding fathers created recognized the contributions made by everyone in the innovation ecosystem were important and necessary. We had it right once. It is time to get it right again!”
People with money have access, as Google lobbyists have demonstrated time and time again. And those with the money typically tend to be those who commercialize the last mile, which in the innovation ecosystem means the point of view they generally have is rather skewed.
Instead of defining innovation as creating first generation, pioneering, paradigm shifting, disruption, those who commercialize the last mile, control manufacturing and distribution channels, view innovation as placing a different product or service offering in front of consumers. But if that product or service offering has previously existed it isn’t new, and different is not synonymous with innovative.
Everyone sees what they do as the most important piece of the puzzle. That is an undeniable part of the human condition. For those that control the final mile they control the final piece of the innovation life cycle — the sales — so it is hardly surprising that they think that is the most important piece. The trouble, however, is that to these giants of industry that control manufacturing and distribution and ultimately sales, they conflate innovation with the sale of something that is different, with different being defined based on their own previous product offerings, not based on whether it is truly unique, revolutionary, paradigm shifting, disruptive, or innovative.
There is no doubt that the final mile is a critical piece of the innovation life cycle, but to listen to the giants of industry tell their story of woe these multinational corporations are being held hostage by individual inventors, laid off engineers, university scientists who had the great fortune to stumble upon a remarkable discovery after a lifetime of research. In other words, average everyday Americans are the villains and the multinational giants that ship jobs overseas, refuse to repatriate trillions of dollars of earnings so they don’t have to pay taxes, increasingly automate so they don’t have to pay minimum wage workers, and constantly increase the prices of their products are the victims.
Call me crazy, but that just sounds stupid. Yet, that is the narrative that gained favor for reasons I simply cannot understand.
Often people will say that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but that isn’t true. What Thomas Edison did was invent the first ever commercially relevant light bulb. This doesn’t make Edison’s contribution any less impressive, but failing to remember the history does ignore the inventors who came before Edison who made the breakthroughs Edison built upon.
Would Edison have been able to invent the light bulb on his own without the work of those who came before him? Perhaps. Edison was an extraordinarily accomplished inventor, but it is impossible to say with certainty. Some might be willing to wager that Edison would not have invented the world’s first commercially useful light bulb without shoulders to stand upon, particularly given everything Edison focused on were improvements after the fabulously famous failure of several of his early, pioneering inventions. Perhaps after debate we might agree that Edison probably could have, or maybe would have eventually, but when? That is precisely why we have a patent system — to incentivize innovation today so we don’t have to wait for tomorrow, or whenever it might be convenient.
It is easy to minimize the contribution of another, but minimizing the contribution of an initial creator who doesn’t have a voice comes with great risk. And all too often that has happened over the past decade, and it has almost always happened with respect to the poor chaps who worked tirelessly to actually invent the light bulb and never receive any credit.
In 1790 America created a patent system that was accessible by everyone, so individuals and small entities could afford proprietary protection. The rights obtained could then be licensed to those that could manufacture and distribute. Everyone doing what everyone does best, not in some communist or socialist way, but in a property rights bases, capitalist system where rights could be owned with certainty and traded with certainty. That is what made the U.S. patent system unique, and it was that uniqueness that made the U.S. patent system great.
Many of those early inventors were individuals did not have as much as a high school education, and certainly did not have political clout. Yet, George Washington and James Madison knew that good ideas and ingenuity were not confined to any particular socioeconomic class, which is why they purposefully created a patent system not confined to any particular socioeconomic class. It was affordable by everyone, and purposefully created to foster non-practicing entities, who then were just called inventors. It was expected inventors would license their inventions to those who could go the last mile.
We hear politicos so often proclaim that what America needs is a Twenty-First Century patent system. NO! America most certainly does not need a Twenty-First Century patent system. America needs an Eighteenth-Century patent system. The patent system our founding fathers created recognized the contributions made by everyone in the innovation ecosystem were important and necessary. We had it right once. It is time to get it right again!