A few years ago, I moved to Paris with my wife and son for work.
Sometimes it’s not easy to tell if the decisions you make as a parent are succeeding. But when my wife and I told my 7-year-old son that we would be returning to America, his response left me speechless.
He asked if I would take him to go see the Tesla Factory in California the moment we got back. He wanted to see vehicles roll off the line and meet the people who make it happen.
This wasn’t the typical type of request you’d expect from a second-grade student — a 49ers game or a trip to Disneyland might be the norm. But it was one of my proudest moments as a father.
I’ve spent my life working as an innovator, from inventing and patenting products myself to helping lead some of the world’s largest intellectual property (IP) businesses. That my son could be inspired by the same values that bring me joy is a gift I cannot express in words.
I want my son, his friends, and anybody with the courage and vision to achieve their dream to have the opportunity to innovate. Yet this future is at risk because America’s patent system is broken.
These are the same values embraced by our nation’s founders and carried on by generations of Americans — innovation, entrepreneurship and hard work.
But while I celebrated our shared values, I found myself fearing for the future we are leaving for our children.
I want my son, his friends, and anybody with the courage and vision to achieve their dream to have the opportunity to innovate. Only with more Thomas Edison’s and Elon Musk’s can America continue to thrive.
Yet this future is at risk because America’s patent system is broken both in terms of how we protect innovations domestically and in how we ensure American innovations are respected abroad.
You need only look to China to see where things have gone wrong.
For years, China has been reluctant to enforce intellectual property (IP) rights, costing American businesses big profits. The United States Trade Representative estimates that, "Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually." One in five North American corporations say Chinese companies have stolen their intellectual property in just the past year.
If American businesses are to thrive and innovate, this can’t continue.
That’s why President Trump’s efforts to take on China, hold them to account and hopefully reach a fair trade deal have been met with bipartisan encouragement.
But protecting America’s IP system does not end with a China deal. While it is a necessary step, we must also ensure that our own house is in order and that American companies play by the rules and don’t abuse the IP system for their own benefit.
Unfortunately, this is happening all too often here at home. Large U.S. companies deploy armies of lawyers against domestic competitors with the intent of bleeding them dry and invalidating their patents. Instead of innovation, the goal is destruction.
The consequences are real. The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce notes, "When countries invest in more effective IP frameworks, the economic benefits are far-reaching ... countries with robust IP systems are more likely to experience increased global trade and investment, greater R&D activity, and stronger global competitiveness."
The converse is also true. During the period from 1996 to 2015 the U.S. share of global venture capital has dropped from 83 percent to 54 percent. Former U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos equated this decline to the concurrent erosion of IP rights in the U.S., noting, "When investment incentives are reduced, you can expect investment to move elsewhere."
In today’s America, there’s a greater incentive for young people to become litigators than innovators. Big companies decide it’s more profitable to pay lawyers than to develop their own innovations or pay for patent licenses.
I’m encouraged by the news this week that bipartisan voices in Washington are working to change this. Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., are leading the charge to reform the patent system, bringing together experts and holding hearings as they draft legislation to make our patent system stronger and more applicable to the 21st century.
Their collaboration shows that even in today’s divided Washington, both sides can agree that American innovation must be protected. A China trade deal that tackles IP reform is a great first step toward improving the system, but it is the beginning, not the end, to protecting American innovation.