Intellectual Property Makes America Great

Intellectual Property Makes America Great
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

Patents are property rights for new inventions secured under laws enacted by Congress. The Constitution specifically empowers Congress to protect patented innovation and copyrighted creativity. The importance of these rights was clear already in the early days of the American Republic. Some of the very first laws passed by the First Congress in 1790 were patent and copyright laws. And the United States economy has been fueled by innovation and inventors ever since.

Today, there are multiple attacks on patents and intellectual property rights — in the U.S. and across the globe. Many large companies think they can bully inventors and companies, while stealing their inventions to gain competitive advantages in the marketplace.

One recent case involves Comcast’s attempt to steamroll the intellectual property rights of another company’s innovation. Comcast chose not to pay TiVo for patented technology that enables a feature popular with their customers: the ability to control the set top box from your cell phone. Comcast had previously paid TiVo for the technology (invented by Rovi, a company that merged with TiVo) but decided not to renew. Meanwhile, Comcast’s competitors continue to pay the licensing fees to TiVo. Comcast knows that consumers want the remote programming feature and won’t disable it to resolve the infringement issue — and won’t pay for it either. It’s a clear example of a large company trying to steal intellectual property from a smaller one in order to gain a competitive advantage.

To protect its property rights, TiVo has taken action, bringing a case before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). And last month, an ITC judge ruled that Comcast infringed two of TiVo’s patents. Since Comcast chooses to manufacture boxes overseas and not with American workers, it’s subject to ITC’s jurisdiction.

As we move towards policies that encourage stronger American manufacturing and reaffirm IP protection, cases like this send an important message. On a wide range of industries — whether technology, steel, or other products — we need to protect American interests from imported products that violate IP rights or take advantage of existing trade deals.

Asian-made products that infringe our patents should be stopped from coming into the United States. Such trade doesn’t make America great. If the United States wants to regain its leadership on intellectual property matters, we must maintain strong enforcement and protections for inventions. American companies like TiVo need to be able to take action to defend their inventions and their property rights against large companies, both at home and abroad.

Ironically, many of the worst patent infringement offenders, such as China, are going in the opposite direction and strengthening their IP rights. And the U.S. is starting to lose its edge as the world leader of patent and IP protection. Some companies are even turning to foreign nations to protect their intellectual property as the United States falls behind. We cannot let China and other countries take the lead.

Our manufacturing base has already moved abroad — as exemplified by Comcast — we cannot allow our innovation advantage to move overseas as well. We should welcome other nations’ strengthening of patent and IP laws. But if we weaken our laws and protections simultaneously, we endanger our own economy. 

Intellectual property rights are part of what makes America so special. If the United States wants to retain its leadership on innovation, we must ensure that property rights are being secured and protected to advance innovation.

Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA.

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