Proposed patent legislation threatens innovation

When we think of all the innovative technologies and modern conveniences of our daily lives today, most of us do not connect the integral role our patent system has played. However, many of the revolutionary advances we now take for granted – checking e-mail, surfing the Web, lifesaving medications and medical devices – were all made possible because of our strong patent system that encourages and rewards innovation.

Unfortunately, that system is under attack right now by some who are pushing legislation in Congress that would reduce the value and enforceability of patents.

BioForward represents 250 Wisconsin companies in the biotechnology and medical device fields. Lifescience businesses now have a presence in 53 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and produce an annual economic impact of over $7 billion. Combined with job growth of 5 percent during the period from 2007 – 2010, Wisconsin’s bioscience industry affects close to 100,000 jobs, resulting in Wisconsin’s ranking among the top 15 bio-clusters in the United States, the top 10 for the medical device sector, and in the top five for medical imaging.

Most of our member companies started with an idea hatched by researchers who spent countless hours in the lab perfecting their product with the clear understanding that their work, if deserving, would be protected by a patent.

Legislation is being considered in Congress that includes provisions that could undermine our patent rights and have negative, unintended consequences on U.S. inventors and our economy. These changes to the patent system would result in a shift in the balance of patent ownership, favoring large and better financed companies over start-ups, investors and inventors who, since the beginning of time, have been responsible for some of the most historic and groundbreaking discoveries.

One of the most concerning consequences of legislation that would marginalize patent rights is the potential chilling effect it could have on funding for research and development efforts at both start-ups and mature companies. Developing lifesaving medical breakthroughs often requires patience and the willingness to invest millions and even billions of dollars. Patents provide those investors with the assurances they need to commit those significant resources.

The investments necessary to develop patent-worthy technology are substantial, and those with an idea and the motivation to realize it must have some assurance that their time and investment are worth the cost. Without patents, the fruits of inventive labor could be easily exploited, diminishing any incentive to take a risk on innovation.

Patents serve as both an incentive to innovate and a promise that investment and hard work up front will pay off down the line. Congress should act cautiously to preserve the integrity of our patents for the good of our economy and the future of innovation.

Bryan Renk is the executive director of BioForward in Madison.

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