Q: How have patents and innovation improved our lives?
A: Throughout the ages, people have used their brains and brawn to make life easier for themselves and society. Each successive generation has marched down the path of progress to achieve higher standards of living and greater prosperity. Inventors turn an idea into a product that addresses a need or solves a problem. Consider how modernized farming practices displaced societies of hunters and gatherers. Iowa's own Norman Borlaug is credited with saving mass starvation of a billion people through his work in high-yield, disease-resistant plant genetics. Perhaps the most sweeping social transformation occurred during the Industrial Revolution when advances in manufacturing and mechanization helped lift a rising tide of economic growth and productivity for people around the world. In 1903, the Wright Brothers triggered a transportation revolution that profoundly impacted global commerce and world travel. A decade into the 21st century, the world is witnessing a new explosion of economic growth made possible by technological advances in life sciences, communications, clean energy and medicine. Today's technologies nearly seem like the products of science fiction or yesteryear's futuristic gadgets that most people didn't expect to exist in their lifetimes. However, thanks to the ingenuity, imagination and creativity of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, inventors and entrepreneurs, America's high tech pioneers continue to raise the bar of expectations and drive the U.S. economy forward. Inventions can make life safer, healthier, more convenient, more fulfilling and more productive. Just think how the washing machine "saves" time in a busy household. America's founders recognized the value of encouraging inventors to think outside the box. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to develop a legal framework to promote scientific innovation and the arts. The nation's patent laws help to spur U.S. competitiveness, innovation and job creation.
Q: Why is it beneficial for an inventor to seek a patent?
A: Since 1836, more than 60,000 Iowans have secured patents to protect the property rights of their inventions. From the first-ever patented carousel to farm implements and medical imaging systems, Iowans from all 99 counties have navigated the patent system to protect their hard work, investment and earning potential. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues patents for qualifying inventions that are considered original, useful and "non-obvious" to the marketplace. A patent grants for a limited time legal rights to a patent holder, to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing the invention in the United States. In exchange for these rights, the patent holder publicly discloses the invention. The patent system offers a mutual benefit to the inventor and society, as others may study the published patent to discover new scientific advances. Last year, the federal patent office issued about 270,000 patents with 1.5 million patent applications pending. The average wait time for patent approval is 24.6 months. If you have an original idea that you believe could someday fly off the store shelf, filing a patent application may be a smart business decision. First, inventors need to do some homework. Do some research to see if your idea already has been granted a patent. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website has a searchable tool at http://www.uspto.gov. If your invention appears patent-free, it would be wise to file a one-year provisional patent application to protect your claim and continue market research. Filing a patent and conducting the necessary research can seem like a bewildering, costly, time-consuming undertaking. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recommends hiring a professional, such as a patent attorney or patent agent to prepare and prosecute your application. As with nearly any situation, watch out for scam artists who over-promise and over-charge for their services. Use good judgment and seek referrals to reputable patent professionals. For more than 200 years, the patent system has worked to advance our system of free enterprise by giving risk-takers the legal and monetary incentive to build, create and invent. Like representative government, it's a two-way street. It strengthens job creation in America and rewards inventors who bring the next big thing to the marketplace. Just as encouraging the next generation to get involved early in our participatory democracy strengthens our system of self-government, encouraging youth to unleash their creativity at home, Science Olympiads and science camps will help the next generation build a better, stronger America tomorrow.
Monday, September 9, 2013