Weekly Column: A Start-up in Sully Illuminates Need for Patent Reform Print
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Written by Sen Chuck Grassley   
Friday, 04 March 2011 00:00

By U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

 

The President’s recent State of the Union address reminded me of a visit I made last summer to a start-up company in Jasper County. This award-winning lighting company illuminates how the U.S. patent system needs to keep up with the 21st century economy.

 

Prism Projection, Inc., headquartered in Sully, has 19 employees collaborating their talents in engineering, software, electronics, and manufacturing.  The company continues to innovate and grow as a pioneer in its field by designing eco-friendly, high-quality lighting solutions for the entertainment and architectural industries.

 

The founder of Prism Projection attributes a big part of its success to recent patent approvals that have allowed the rural-based company to “grow and continue hiring.” His company exemplifies why it’s so important to Main Street start-ups to make patent protection an economic priority and to improve the patent system so it is more workable and efficient.

The current U.S. patent system is mired in uncertainty, inefficiencies, and a morass of litigation. Creators of new technologies and products are left vulnerable to abusive lawsuits.  Too often inventors with good ideas are left hanging in the wind for investment capital while their patent applications are clogged in the system.  U.S. entrepreneurs, innovators and investors languish under a federal patent system that has not been significantly updated in more than 60 years.


The United States can’t “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” our competitors when America’s best and brightest inventors are out-of-luck with a federal patent system woefully out-of-date (the U.S. Patent Office only recently began accepting the lion’s share of its patent applications digitally) and out-of-touch (patent applicants can wait years for an initial ruling) with the way businesses are run in the global economy. Inefficiencies in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are undermining America’s road to economic recovery, growth and job creation.


That’s why I’m working to advance long overdue bipartisan patent reform legislation that would help put America’s researchers, entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors back in the driver’s seat.

The America Invents Act would protect inventors’ rights and encourage innovation and investment in our economy.  The bill would improve transparency and third party participation in the patent application review process.  This, in turn, would strengthen patent quality and result in more fairness to both patent holders and patent challengers.  The bill would institute beneficial changes to the patent process to curb litigation abuses and improve certainty for investors and innovators.  It would also help companies do business more efficiently on an international basis.  And, finally, the bill would enhance operations of the Patent and Trademark Office with administrative reforms and give the office fee-setting authority to reduce backlogs and better manage its business.

The U.S. inventor widely credited for “inventing” the light bulb effectively “out-innovated” his competitors in the late 19th century through tireless scientific research and engineering. When the U.S. Patent Office granted patent 223,898 in January 1880, just two months after filing his application, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb would soon revolutionize electrical lighting in America.


The "Wizard of Menlo Park" and the wizards of Prism Projection, Inc. turned their bright ideas into patentable products and intellectual property that give consumers what they want. An effective, efficient patent system can help create jobs and prosperity for starts-ups on Main Street. Clearing up the backlog and making the patent system more accountable also will help make Iowa’s manufacturing, agricultural and academic research giants, such as Rockwell Collins, Inc., Deere & Company and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, more competitive in the global economy.


Unleashing America’s inventors, scientists, researchers and investors from a patent system that’s stuck in the last century is key to our long-term prosperity.

Friday, March 4, 2011