Our Children’s Future to Innovate is At Risk — How to Keep America Open for New Inventions
Young people today are more interested than ever in technology, inventions, innovations and scientific discovery; innovators are the new rock stars and have captured the imagination of the young generation. We can see this trend in places like Design Tech High School in Silicon Valley, which is serving as an incubator for the creations of teenage inventors, software developers, and product designers. I’ve seen this passion for innovation in my own family, as well. A few years ago, my then-7-year-old son told me that instead of spending a day at Disneyland or Universal Studios he would rather visit the Tesla factory!
I am passionate about encouraging children to be curious and creative. Children have a natural ability to innovate. They help us to see the world with new eyes, and they earnestly suggest novel solutions to everyday problems. There are so many ways to encourage and invest in the innovative potential of our children, from teaching boys and girls how to code, to hosting hack-a-thons, offering programs in entrepreneurship, connecting talented students with internships and career mentors, and more. But if we want the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of today’s young people to endure, we also need to make big changes to America’s system of patent laws and intellectual property protections. If today’s inventors — of all ages — do not feel like their inventions will be protected by our patent laws and IP protection system, their innovations will be at risk, their creative spirit will be discouraged, and the entire U.S. economy will suffer for it.
IP protections are an essential foundation to America’s global leadership and our children’s future success in the 21st century digital economy. Without a reliable system of IP protections, innovators lose the incentive to invent and invest. When the IP system gets corrupted by copycats and deep-pocketed incumbents, small innovators lose heart. Intellectual property protections help keep America open for innovation and give hope to every small innovator with a great idea.
America needs to do more to make sure that we are creating an open and level playing field for innovation. In recent years big players and entrenched incumbents have doubled down on their efforts to squeeze out competition from small innovators and startups. We need to update our system of IP protections for the 21st century to make sure that our children’s generation of world-changing startup ideas get a chance to survive, grow, and prosper.
Here are a few common-sense strategies to help ensure a strong and fair system of IP protection that protect the rights of innovators while also encouraging innovation:
- Stop abusive lawsuits against innovative small firms. Some big companies abuse the patent system by litigating against smaller competitors, trying to invalidate their patents. If it’s more profitable for big companies to hire lawyers and tie up their competitors in court than it is to pay for patent licenses or acquire innovative startups, innovation and competitiveness will suffer. The patent system is intended to protect the rights of innovators, not serve as fodder for frivolous lawsuits where the claimant with the deepest pockets wins.
- Reform the patent system for the 21st Century. Bipartisan efforts are underway in Washington, DC, led by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to reform the patent system. If we want to encourage the next generation of innovators like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla, we need to make sure our patent system is adaptable and agile enough to meet the new challenges of a 21st century digital economy. IP challenges have changed since the days of the first automobile, the first plane, or the first microchip. Each new wave of innovation requires the regulatory framework to adapt to the new challenges of the era. Patent reform is an essential foundation for continued future success and global competitiveness of the U.S. economy.
- Choose “open” instead of “closed” systems and platforms. Although today’s young people are excited about innovation, there is sometimes a sense among them that the system is rigged. Some feel that big companies have too much power and are absorbing all the profit, that there’s no room left for small innovators to get a share of the action, and that the once wide-open Internet is becoming a collection of walled gardens where new ideas struggle to take root. America needs to resist the monopolization and closing-off of our technology and business landscapes, and instead embrace and promote the American value of “open” innovation. Our patent system, our IP laws, and our economic future should choose a path of openness. For example, in my own company’s field of entertainment technology we believe that the future depends upon an open model of development, where small innovators can prosper outside of the constraints of in-house systems. We want consumers to have maximum choice to enhance the viewing experience, and thus we want companies to be able to innovate and create new technologies in a platform-neutral manner. This “open” spirit of innovation is where the biggest growth potential resides, and this is what our patent system and IP protection regulations should support.
America became the most powerful and wealthy country in human history not by top-down controls and constraints imposed by incumbent powers, but by a spirit of openness to immigration, new ideas, entrepreneurship, and a fertile environment wherein powerful ideas and game-changing innovations can come from anywhere. But this openness also needs to be backed by reliable protections and rule of law. America needs to use this moment as an opportunity to reform and rebuild its systems of IP protection. Let’s move in the direction of openness. Let’s build a system that rewards innovators and inspires the next generation of entrepreneurs.