Great products come from strong patents
Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.
Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.
From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Patents are the primary means of protecting IP — trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets offer additional IP protection — and represent a rule-of-law guarantee akin to a deed’s role in protecting land ownership. The founders of the United States wrote patent protection into the Constitution to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Abraham Lincoln revered patents for adding “the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”
A fireside chat with Qualcomm youtu.be
In today’s knowledge-based economy, IP rights play a foundational role. “Core R&D is the first step in getting good products into people’s hands,” said John Smee, senior VP of engineering and global head of wireless research at Qualcomm. “Everything from smartphones to the Internet of Things, automotive and industrial innovation begins as a breakthrough within our research labs.” At Qualcomm, Smee said, strong IP laws help the company confidently conduct cutting-edge 5G and 6G wireless research that will make its way into products ranging from everyday consumer goods to the factory floor.
Semiconductor companies, in particular, are fiercely protective of their IP because it’s their primary competitive advantage. Chip companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect their IP by maintaining black boxes only accessible to one person per fab, choosing highly secure operating locations, and keeping R&D teams separate from fab operations teams.
On the legal side, America’s Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 bestows legal protection of chip topography and design layout IP while the EU’s Legal Protection of Topographies of Semiconductor Products of 1986 protects IC design. These regulations “have encouraged firms to continue to innovate,” according to the findings of Qualcomm’s and Accenture’s report, Harnessing the power of the semiconductor value chain.Having a high-quality patent portfolio also helps companies build out their ecosystem, should they choose to license, through advising, training, support for launches, assistance in expanding to new markets, and much more.
Licensing democratizes innovation and invention— it makes the cutting-edge IP developed by one firm accessible to a broad range of others. As such, it allows other companies to skip the R&D step and jump right into building on the innovator’s foundation. This lowers the barrier to entry for upstart companies while providing a steady return on investments for the companies who have the resources to dedicate to heavy R&D.
An outsize economic impact
IP protection also has an outsized impact on the US economy and helps create good higher-paying jobs. A report from The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) found that in 2019 industries that intensively use IP protection account for over 41% of U.S. gross domestic product (or about $7.8 trillion) and employ one-third of the total workforce — that’s 47.2 million jobs. In 2019, the average weekly earnings of $1,517 for workers across all IP-intensive industries was 60% higher than weekly earnings for workers in other industries.
Workers in IP-intensive industries were more likely to earn higher wages as well as participate in employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement plans, the USPTO report found.
But patent laws are often subject to much debate — one person’s idea of protection is another’s view of monopoly. That’s where organizations like LeadershIP come into play. The group brings together experts on IP and innovation to debate issues at the intersection of research, policy, and industry.
In addition, several efforts are underway to help inventors get their ideas into the marketplace. The Inventors Patent Academy (TIPA), for instance, is an online learning platform aimed at guiding inventors through the benefits of patenting and the process of obtaining a patent. TIPA has designed its program to make patenting more accessible and understandable for groups historically underrepresented in the patent-heavy science and engineering fields, including women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQIA, lower-income communities, and people with disabilities.
Closing these gaps would promote U.S. job creation, entrepreneurial activity, economic growth, and global leadership in innovation. Estimates suggest that increasing participation by underrepresented groups in invention and patenting would quadruple the number of American inventors and increase the annual U.S. gross domestic product by nearly $1 trillion.
If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.
“With the protection of patents,” Smee said, “there is no limit to where our creativity can take us.”