Remember when you got your first smartphone? Or your first car? Or your first personal computer?
That thrill might be gone now. But it would have been gone a lot sooner if, instead of having new, improved options to trade up to, you were stuck a decade or longer with the same version you started with.
Ever wonder what makes those new, improved devices available? Invention and patents.
Too many people lose sight of this engine of innovation and how it benefits society. They take a cavalier attitude toward property rights in patents. Too many politicians now threaten intellectual property protections.
The “patent bargain” that stems from our Constitution creates a win-win. The inventor wins exclusivity over the intellectual property he or she discovered. The patent secures the right to exclude others from making, selling or using that brand-new property — essentially, from trespassing — until the patent expires. This gives the patent owner running room to create a market around the new discovery — stemming from the inherent private property right and initial years of exclusivity.
Society wins by learning about the invention and its area of technology, such as chemistry or electronics. Patents describe explicit details disclosing how the invention works. This disclosure enables other inventors to learn from their peers and to invent around the patented invention.
It’s common for inventors to develop other inventions that relate to the core invention. For instance, a utility patent may cover an implantable drug delivery device. A unique material that works best, developed in the trial-and-error process, could be patented separately.
Specific design features can be patented, too. And the drug the medical device delivers would have its own patents on things like the active ingredient and the manufacturing process.
Inventors tend to keep iterating their milestone inventions. They come up with improvements on fairly minor aspects of their core inventions, apply the learnings of others in their field of art, develop ways for their inventions to work better and find other materials that are better suited to different applications of the same basic invention. Each of these discoveries may be patentable.
So, it’s perfectly logical that a smartphone has a couple of hundred patented components, software and other elements in it. It makes perfect sense that a car contains multiple patents between the car company and automotive parts makers.
Lately, pharmaceutical patents have come under fire in Washington’s drug pricing debate. It shouldn’t be surprising that a given medicine may have a hundred or more patents on its various iterations. Demagogues don’t think twice about their other labor-saving devices combining hundreds of patents.
Politicians keep making fact-free claims. And both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have proposed bills that threaten innovators’ patent property rights. For instance, a GOP bill would link U.S. drug prices to those of socialized medicine countries that dictate government price-controlled rates.
A Democratic bill would install a heavy-handed government price-setting mechanism. If you don’t take the government-set price, you lose your patent rights and must license your drug patent to your competitors.
Politicians may think they’ll merely lower medical costs. They should be careful and not destroy our patent system, because what they’re advocating could wipe out both game-changing and iterative invention in the biomedical sector and beyond.
The fact is, even patent-protected, dynamic new products that command initial eye-popping prices typically face market competition before the patent expires.
Take the case of Harvoni. This cure for hepatitis C came on the market in 2014. Its price prompted a predicted “tsunami effect across our entire health care system.”
When Viekira Pak soon hit the market, the competition between these cure drugs enabled payers to negotiate aggressively with the drug companies. By 2015, Harvoni’s price had dropped precipitously.
“New and improved” is more than an advertising slogan. We all benefit from invention and patenting’s “progress of science and useful arts.” We all gain from inventors enjoying strong, secure patent rights.
Keep that in mind the next time you use your smartphone to wirelessly get directions by GPS or to text, your car’s rearview camera helps you get out of a tight spot or you fill a prescription that has fewer side effects or can be taken daily instead of every few hours.
James Edwards is executive director of Conservatives for Property Rights (@4PropertyRights) and patent policy advisor to Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund. The views expressed are his own.
The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.
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