U.S. Patent Law Is Killing American Ingenuity
Many of us have great ideas. The flow of technology comes in a very logical pattern, and one thought provokes another, so it's almost as if the trail of design, of technology, and of creativity is somewhat pre-destined or pre-determined. I'll use the example that when my Dad was young, he talked about having roller skates. He said they would take off the wheels and put them on a board, and created their own skate boards. He says he invented it first, and should have gone after the design. The fact is, many young boys had the same idea. It's the one with the contacts, the money, the wisdom, the marketing infrastructure, and the ability to tackle hurdles in manufacturing that makes the money off the design. One design leads to another. Once a first design comes out, a physical production model makes our minds run wild. When one breaks, and someone gets hurt, a father is thinking about how to make them stronger. When your wheel locks up on a pebble in the road, you're thinking how to design one that won't do that. Today we have longboards with bigger boards and wheels. So though it seems like one person had the idea, often the operation of the skateboard will lead many users to the same conclusion, and it's a matter of who takes the idea to market who gains the return.
Today we have an expanded world which includes realistically, much of the planet and it's products. With Ebay, Amazon, or phone apps like the Geek App, you can order products from all over the world with about $3 in shipping or less on most products! That means, no local taxes, no state taxes, no import taxes, no middle men, yet the product comes from afar, and comes right to you. You can live off the grid, and order anything you want or need.
When I was young, a trip to Tijuana Mexico would lead to jewelry vendors, many of which sold Rolex and Cartier imitation watches. We knew they were fake because they were cheap, but an amateur or youth really couldn't tell the difference. Today, the problem we have is much the same, except that more of the general population orders their goods online.
China has ramped up factories to output tremendous quantities of product.... anything that sells basically. A friend of mine designed a lithium battery box that was fantastic! His electronics ingenuity is the backbone that created the product. He sent his designs to a company in China who produced samples for him. He worked hard to get U.S. approvals and U.L. Certification to prove the products safety for sale in the U.S. Meanwhile, he has secured patents, and paid for production, and is waiting on more funds to move forward with a large order. During that time, one day, his design shows up for sale on Amazon. His price to order 5 units was $359.00, and an expected retail of $559.00. If he ordered 500 units, he could get them for $230.00. The product now sells on Amazon for $299.00, without his consent or profit, direct from the factory in China.
How can this happen? The U.S. patent office is only as enforceable as the borders of our nation. While products go in and out of the country through the mail and internet orders, there is no way to enforce a U.S. patent overseas. The U.S. patent office can be searched at will. So basically, every U.S. design is open to foreign theft and reproduction, while those of us in the U.S. are unable to "infringe" upon those designs, or reproduce them without recourse. So U.S. policiy is allowing all of our designs to fly out the window, be produced by others, then sell back to us in our own land.
This will lead to a technology and ingenuity shift. The power to produce and make money is no longer with the companies who design and produce products, but it is with the manufacturers who own the production facilities. Basically, the place with the most factories wins. The only way to advance ingenuity today, and to remain fair to the product designer is to function on a globally open-source system whereby patents are useless. The best way to avoid stolen designs is not to patent, and not to register the design, as well as to build products in-house rather than farm them out. Though governments' job is to protect, there is not enough insight currently in Washington as to what is happening in the global design and commerce sector for good decisions to be made in this regard.
I recommend to unlock the patent offices doors to American engineers and entrepreneurs with no more follow up or legal recourse for American citizens, just as it is in China and many other countries of the world and "their" American products and production lines. I know that the U.S. isn't the only country in this boat, for we are in a global free-for all at the moment when it comes to design and improvement. I'm not saying necessarily that this is a bad thing. Shared resources and the internet has helped the rest of the world to catch up to and even surpass American Technology. Americans will find themselves needing to get off the couch and get back to work before long. The U.S. patent office today not only doesn't help Americans, but it keeps Americans from competing in the new global marketplace.
What do you think, and how should designers protect their investments from foreign manufacturing and distribution for a lower price? For other countries, how has this impacted your country? Should the law restrict and reimburse profits for companies or individuals who's designs have been "stolen?" Internationally?
How has this effected, and how will it effect mass production in the future? Will it harm or help our ability to produce and quality control things like battery backup systems, solar panels, wind power, cars, computers, etc? How do mass produced products and designs impact off-grid living? How have they impacted your off-grid life or adventures?
~By David Webster
Here's an interesting video on Pharmaceuticals and patent law: