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"The fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things": Reforming the U.S. patent system

By Molly Hardwick
web posted November 22, 2021

Long-term growth is defined as the increase in the market value of goods and services produced by an economy over a period of time. Technological advancements are one of the ways that a country can increase the productivity of its workers and the value of its capital goods, and thus increase its long-term economic growth. In the United States, technological advancements primarily occur by private investors, who are then encouraged to file for a patent to protect their inventions. However, in the United States, the process by which an inventor obtains a patent is long, convoluted, and expensive. My proposition to the United States is to reform the patent system so that it is faster and cheaper for innovators to obtain a patent. I believe that doing so would more greatly incentivize innovations and therefore lead to even greater increases in the long-term growth of the United States.

The first problem with the current U.S. patent system is the massive expense required for an inventor to obtain a patent. Because a patent lawyer is required to help the inventor through every step of the process, costs add up quickly. This can be a major setback for younger inventors in particular, as they just starting out and may have a plethora of great ideas but simply lack funds to support their endeavors. It is suggested that people who are interested in obtaining a patent should budget between $15,000 and $20,000 for the entire process. The primary cost in that estimation is for a patent lawyer, which is required for innovators starting at the very beginning of the process for them to simply find out if their idea has already been patented. This is because there is not a searchable database or an easy way for even authorized people to view or search all U.S. patents. This is wildly inefficient for inventors and necessitates the expensive and sometimes manipulative patent lawyers who must comb through the resources available to them to determine whether their client's invention has been patented already. There is some research that an inventor is able to do prior to hiring a lawyer, but for most of the process, a patent lawyer is a must.

Additionally, actually obtaining a patent can take an excessively long time. Usually, it takes about 22 months to get a patent after going through the process of filing for it. Nearly two years is a long time to wait and during that time, inventors could have their idea stolen, miss opportunities to get investors to back their product, and lose a lot of money. Because it is so expensive and time-consuming, inventors will often forgo obtaining a patent at all. However, this can be detrimental to them later on because not having a patent makes it much easier for their invention to be stolen, and it can discourage investors from putting money into the invention. This process would be much easier, cheaper, and more efficient to navigate if a searchable database of all patents were created and if patent requests were more prioritized so as to speed up the process, which would cause a greater incentive for inventors and ultimately lead to an increase in long-term U.S. economic growth. 

Repercussions of the lack of efficiency in the U.S. patent system fall not only on inventors themselves but also on the long-term growth rate of the United States as a whole. Thus, improvements to the patent system are about more than just helping innovators. New technology is a large part of economic growth, so inventions directly correlate to increasing the long-term economic growth of the country. This means that there is great incentive to significantly improve the system by making it as inexpensive, fast, and secure as possible. Really, it is a bit baffling that the system has yet to make these changes. There is so much evidence, as well as personal testimonies and common sense, that the system is not as good as it could be, and it simply does not make sense to continue on in the way it currently is. Of course, it is important to note that the U.S. patent system is still much better than that of many developing countries. However, as evidenced by these issues and more, there are still plenty of flaws. These problems need to be addressed with urgency because they are about more than just helping innovators to cut down on the time and money they spend on obtaining patents for their inventions. ESR

This is Molly Hardwick’s first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (C) 2021 Molly Hardwick

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