How Do Patents Encourage Innovation

The Basic Argument

Imagine a world where ideas weren’t protected. You’d find a host of problems that came from it such as people never getting to profit from their ideas. The problem with that? No one would feel the drive to innovate if there were no reward from doing it. Patents were invented as a way of protecting intellectual property. If you spent decades working on a project, you’d want some rightful compensation for it.

Protecting Ideas

The concept of protecting ideas goes back to July 31, 1790, when Samuel Hopkins was granted a patent for a unique method of producing potash, but some people believe that the idea of protecting ideas could actually hinder innovation—whether that’s true or not depends on opinion. While it makes sense in theory that patents protect innovation and innovation is good for society, the inventor often gets rights over a broad subject matter, which can stifle innovation. The person who has the patent rights will normally have control over it for a 20-year period where they basically have a monopoly on the idea. For example, let’s say that someone was given the rights for a steam-powered train. Only the individual who had the rights to the steam-powered train could innovate with it, or they could face lawsuits in the court. At the end of the patent period, anyone can innovate with the idea.

Difficult to Prove

Almost any CEO working in a business will tell people that his patents are crucial to protecting his business. Economists, on the other hand, have questioned this idea for years. Another problem comes from how the lack of a patent can take the steam out of someone’s engine. For example, a patent gives an individual a reason to develop his ideas further. However, if the patent application gets rejected for whatever reason, the chance of the invention going to the market decrease by as much as 13 percent. The individual could have a great idea, but they give up if they fail to get the idea through the patent process, they sometimes give up earlier than what they should have.

Does This Question Matter?

Asking whether patents are harmful is a kind of idle question because almost every country in the world uses the patent system. In addition, no one has any plans of dismantling the system because it has been highly useful and protected the rights of business owners. However, it is a useful question to wonder what the world might be like without patents. Would it encourage innovation or hinder it?

The Concern in Technology

One of the chief concerns of it coming from the technology sector is the fact that it could block off entire areas for development and research. Let’s say that you have a breast cancer gene patent. It could stop further research from other people developing it. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. People negotiating to be allowed to further develop the idea could hinder the innovation in the field under the wrong circumstances.

Some of the strategies that you will find that people have used as a workaround in the field of biomedicine include:

  • Ignore a broad patent too broad to challenge.
  • Combine the technologies.
  • Redirecting the efforts towards research.
  • Get engaged with licensing.

The one thing that we have to understand is how these ideas aren’t without their share of difficulties.

Adjusting the System

We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater because the patent system does a great job at protecting people and rewarding those who come up with innovative ideas. However, in the future, we should look at figuring out ways that could help with enhancing innovation through patents.

The patent has become an effective tool for sharing knowledge. In fact, many places like the US, Europe and Japan depend on patent information because it allows them to understand how far technology has come. The idea is that hopefully, it will assist with sparking more valuable ideas. Thomas Edison gives us one historic example of a figure who would visit the patent office as a way of giving him ideas for his own inventions. This could, fact, be a good thing because otherwise, inventors would rightfully guard their inventions secretively, and this could harm innovation.\

Free Consultation

Author: Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams is an experienced mechanical engineer and lawyer that consults closely with clients in a strait forward and clear manner. He brings a particular set of strengths and unique perspectives to the firm.

Jeff received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University in 2005. He was an engineer for a number of years at a number of large corporations before pursuing his law degree. He graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan University School of Law) with a J.D. in 2010. By combining his education and prior work experience into the field of intellectual property law, Jeff has developed key skills to fully assist clients.

The End of Innovation? Inventor Protection Act


What is the Inventor Protection Act?

The proposed Inventor Protection Act, otherwise known as H.R. 6557, is sponsored by Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California. Ostensibly, it is designed to protect individual inventors and their rights to the innovations they create, and backers say that it will promote further innovation in the future.

Essentially, the Inventor Protection Act is aimed at counteracting portions of two decisions that were handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years. Both of these decisions are thought to have limited the legal remedies that patent owners can seek when they allege infringement. Moreover, they may limit some options that patent owners used to have when filing a patent infringement case. Specifically, the proposed bill mentions that using an injunction to prohibit others from using a patent’s technology was eliminated in the eBay vs. MercExchange case of 2006. The proposed legislation also mentions that filing patent infringement lawsuits in the patent owner’s jurisdiction was made virtually impossible thanks to the outcome of TC Heartland vs. Kraft Foods Group Brands in 2017.

What Would the Bill Do?

The proposed law is primarily aimed at inventors who are patent owners. Being able to use an injunction and file a lawsuit in their own jurisdiction would be of enormous benefit to these entrepreneurs.

The proposed law further takes aim at many other issues in the patent world. In simple terms, the bill is meant to protect the rights of small inventors. This is a reaction to the feeling that the patent world is one in which only the big players have a viable chance of succeeding. It is an idea that is not entirely unfounded with many multi-national corporations hoarding patents and suing for infringement at the drop of a hat. Individual inventors simply do not have the deep pockets and legal resources that are readily available to large companies. This means that when big business alleges infringement, most small inventors cannot fight.

Accordingly, the proposed law is supposed to protect the rights of inventors who also are patent owners. This means that the inventor has not assigned the rights to their patent over to a business entity, as is a common practice. The reality is that most patents are granted on inventions that employees create in the course of their employment. Usually, these rights are formally transferred to the employer by means of an assignment agreement. This makes the entity the owner of the patent and essentially places responsibility for dealing with any infringement accusations or other matters that may arise on the company.

The Concerns

It is easy to visualize numerous problems that may arise if the law passes as it now exists. Extending protections and options to small inventors is a good idea, but this particular law doesn’t seem to address the problem adequately. For instance, it does not take into account that most patents have more than one inventor. If one inventor falls out with the others, what becomes of the patent rights under the new law? One dissenting inventor can make it impossible to license or enforce an inventor-owned patent.

Moreover, if inventors instead of employers own patents, what happens to those rights when the employee seeks a job elsewhere? It may be that the inventor’s former co-workers will continue to build on the technology, which may lead to a continuation-in-part patent application. If one of the prior inventors no longer is employed at the same company, how is patent ownership divided? The answers to these questions may become increasingly complicated if this new law passes as written.

Innovation is important to America’s future, but the proposed legislation does not necessarily solve as many problems as it purports to do. Making it possible for inventors to file infringement lawsuits in their own jurisdiction certainly makes sense, but it is not necessarily a good idea for all of these benefits to only apply to patents that are owned by inventors. This is because many patents are assigned to small companies and startups that also do not have deep pockets and legal teams on retainer. Unless this law can be extended to protect more innovators than just independent inventors, it is unlikely to have the effect for which legislators are hoping.

If you need assistance with any patents please request a free consultation with the Law Offices of Jeff Williams PLLC.
Free Consultation

Author: Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams is an experienced mechanical engineer and lawyer that consults closely with clients in a strait forward and clear manner. He brings a particular set of strengths and unique perspectives to the firm.

Jeff received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University in 2005. He was an engineer for a number of years at a number of large corporations before pursuing his law degree. He graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan University School of Law) with a J.D. in 2010. By combining his education and prior work experience into the field of intellectual property law, Jeff has developed key skills to fully assist clients.

Innovations that May Shape the Future

December 18, 2015

Surival Breeds Innovation

As Plato once opined, necessity is the mother of invention. New generations arise, and each one is confronted with a unique set of challenges. Whether they are faced with war, drought, famine or other difficulties, they strive to overcome these obstacles. While finding ways to survive, humans have also sought ways to make life better, easier and more efficient. It is in meeting these necessities that some of mankind’s greatest innovations have seen their genesis.

That spirit of invention continues to thrive today. Could anyone have imagined the prevalence or even the existence of smartphone technology a generation ago? Technological innovation moves quickly. What was new just a year or two before is obsolete now. We have become a people accustomed to newer, better and quicker everything, and the inventions just keep coming.

1. Google Smartwatch

One of the most interesting and potentially life-changing inventions that is now in development is a Google smartwatch that may help diabetics keep a better handle on blood sugar levels without using a needle. To use the device, a person places a detachable component of the watch over their finger. A microparticle is shot to the skin’s surface, neatly and painlessly taking a blood sample. The component is then reattached to the watch where it can precisely determine the user’s blood glucose levels. Google filed a patent application for this innovation. However, they decline to say whether or not the device will soon be on the market. If it should come to fruition, it’s clear that the apparatus would greatly improve the quality of life of the millions of people around the world who suffer from diabetes.

2. Engineered Farming

Another fascinating innovation comes from a network of university researchers from America, the U.K. and Australia. They are working to develop genetic tools that would enable the world’s farmers to boost crop yields to incredible levels. Scientists involved envision a world in which food shortages are a thing of the past thanks to the specialized engineering of plants that allows them to use sunlight far more efficiently. Dubbed C4 photosynthesis by researchers, the invention draws on the more efficient growth rates of sugarcane and corn, re-engineering them to make new varieties of rice and wheat that could potentially feed the world. With hunger a thing of the past, who knows what kinds of new inventions would be enabled?

3. Nanobots

Other researchers visualize a future in which nanobots can be deployed into the bloodstream in order to combat disease. Such nanobots might be used to deliver life-saving chemotherapy with only a fraction of the side effects or to create blood clots that might help with more efficient wound healing. Though still in the early stages, it’s easy to imagine how nanobots might revolutionize human health and longevity.

4. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has been on the horizon for some time, but technology is finally catching up to the imagination of science fiction writers. Researchers are closer than ever to cracking the code that will enable them to “solve intelligence,” making it possible to create from silicon a consciousness that successfully mimics human sensibilities.

Each of these innovative ideas needs intellectual property protection in order to thrive. If you have inventions that are in development, then you need to protect them. Contact Texas patent attorney Jeff Williams to learn about how you can protect your ideas and get your free consultation.