“In 2013, the U.S. topped the world rankings of the most innovative countries. Now, as of this month, we are no longer in the top ten. It has never been more important to encourage America’s innovators and invest in their ingenuity.”
As is customary, President Joseph R. Biden has spent much of his first month in office building out his administration’s Cabinet. His nominations for Secretary of State, Treasury and Defense have already been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Now, short lists are being assembled for who may fill his non-Cabinet-level positions.
Much time and focus has been duly spent on Cabinet-level positions, but there are other government agencies that have a major impact on the U.S. economy. There have been a lot of rumors surrounding Biden’s pick to head the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and for good reason. Today, as America continues to recover from COVID-19 and its consequences, this position may be more important than ever before.
Innovation is Key to Recovery
Each stakeholder business community has their own list of preferred candidates, as Big Tech has different priorities than Big Pharma, for instance. But, regardless of any potential USPTO candidate’s background and experience, everyone can agree that the next director needs to understand a simple, critical formula: reliable and enforceable intellectual property (IP) rights are key drivers of innovation.
COVID-19 has brought innovation to the forefront more than ever before. From keeping the economy afloat to developing a vaccine, America’s inventors have been essential to fighting this pandemic. As you would expect, they’ll be just as important in helping us recover. The direct and indirect impacts of innovation account for more than 40% of U.S. economic growth and employment. This is the type of production and growth that we desperately need moving forward.
Sadly, America’s level of innovation continues to decline. In 2013, the U.S. topped the Bloomberg Innovation Index’s rankings of the most innovative countries. Now, as of this month, we are no longer in the top ten. It has never been more important to encourage America’s innovators and invest in their ingenuity. The USPTO needs to make that a top priority moving forward, and that starts with better patent protection.
The 2017 Intellectual Property Commission Report estimates that Chinese IP theft costs the U.S. between $225 and $600 billion every year. According to the Economic Policy Institute, since 2001, the U.S. has also lost 3.4 million manufacturing jobs to China. We cannot expect this theft or these job losses to stop without a strong IP rights system.
Industries rely on the enforcement of their patents, and consumers expect safe, guaranteed products. We are already experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold these fundamental protections – we can no longer afford to sacrifice any more economic growth. The USPTO’s next director needs to act with a sense of urgency in reforming our IP system and giving America’s innovators the protection they deserve.
Restoring the Confidence to ‘Venture into the Unknown’
In 2019, then-USPTO Director Andrei Iancu said, “Turns out, invention is synonymous with America. Indeed, in invention I see America; and in inventors, I see the American character…Invention is about trying new things, taking risks, and venturing into the unknown when nobody else would.”
Right now, America is in the type of “unknown” that former UPSTO Director Iancu referenced. I doubt he anticipated that we would be experiencing that unknown in the form of a global pandemic, but his sentiment still rings true.
As America navigates a recovery from COVID-19, relying on economic and medical innovations to do so, we need our inventors to take risks and try new things. But, that’s only possible if they have the confidence to do so.
We need to foster an environment where our inventors – the most innovative in the world – can create the best technology on the market without fear of it being stolen. To achieve this, President Biden’s pick for USPTO director must make patents and intellectual property rights a top priority. Without a strong American IP system, America’s inventors are limited. Understanding this is the most important qualification that the USPTO’s next director must have.