The essence of America has been an embrace of innovation in all its forms -- politically with democracy, economically with highly developed capitalism, and scientifically through the protection of invention. It is in this last area of scientific and technological breakthroughs that America will find its best chance of reclaiming its position in the world. It is in that same area that America is now under threat.
The Founders viewed the role of invention as so important to our nation's progress that protection of patents is prominently featured in the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 8 gave Congress the power "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Since the first recorded patent in 1790, more than 7 million patents have been issued through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Patents have been granted for inventions that have propelled our nation's progress, such as railroad wheels, the telegraph, the rubber fabric in tires, the sewing machine, pasteurized milk, and the computer.
Despite this early focus on fueling innovation, there is a clear and present danger to America's hegemony in science and patents, upon which so many of our new jobs depend. Over the last several decades, patents have been requested at an extraordinary pace, causing a backlog of 1.2 million applications in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The trends are not good. Just last week, the budget for the patent office was cut by 10 percent. In contrast, China has endorsed reaching 2 million patent filings per year by 2015, compared to about 500,000 per year in the United States.
Help is on the way, however. One good step was the appointment to the patent office of the former head of patents at IBM, Director David Kappos, who is making patent quality and improvements in the system top priorities. Ultimately, innovation in our patent system will not come from government, but from the private sector.
A fascinating solution is emerging in the U.S that can help protect the creditworthiness of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of intellectual property represented by patents. Today, communities of researchers and technologists around the world are researching the validity of patents in a novel way that will help foster true innovation.
In what is akin to a "Facebook for Patents" -- a company named Article One Partners, which received the Silicon Alley Tech Startup of the Year prize, offers compensation to researchers from 176 countries to strengthen patents, reduce the risk of infringement assertions by competitors, and improve patent quality.
Translated into eight languages, searches by Article One span the globe and promise to bring greater efficiency to patent stakeholders. The company uses its global crowd-sourcing model to compensate the public, for the first time, for their work in improving the patent system. This innovative approach gives the public the tools and voice to correct a system that itself needs a dose of innovation.
Social media is literally helping fuel revolutions for democracy, so why not a revolution in the system that protects that mainstay of democracy -- invention. Such is the American story -- to invent and re-invent and create generations of Thomas Edisons whose ideas transform our world.
Leave it to the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans to reinvent the patent system itself and help restore the jobs and prosperity that result from our inventions. I can think of one Founding Father who would be especially proud.
John M. Bridgeland is CEO of Civic Enterprises and former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
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