Technology: On Becoming Fortune’s Favored

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Intelligence alone, it appears, will not win the day for an inventor bursting with great ideas. Yale University cognitive psychologist Robert Sternberg believes the winning streak involves the existence of “successful intelligence.” Ashonors graduate of Harvard Law School, Tama J. Kieves, said, “Transformation of any kind always exacts a holy tussle. The newborn butterfly struggles to open its wings so it can conjure up the strength to fly. So too with artists, inventors, mystics, and entrepreneurs.”

The transformation that is anticipated through an invention will only come about if action is taken to convert the idea into a product that will sell. For instance, regular people believe Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. In reality, two English chemists Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan developed a working light bulb long before Edison. What Edison did was to take a great working idea and turn it into a highly saleable product – the first commercially viable and long-lasting electric bulb. And he did not stop at that. He is credited with constructing the world’s first workable power station.

However, unlike during the time of Edison, building businesses from invention ideas is extremely challenging in contemporary times. Apart from unimaginable kinds of information in unbelievable quantities freely available on the Internet, there is also effortless global access to alternative products and complicated loads of government regulations that hamper a product’s commercial viability.

And so, inventing is hardly a matter of just coming up with a great idea. The idea essentially has to be converted into a saleable product that will generate enough demand to earn back the cost of putting it on the market. And if that is not enough of a problem, there is the ever-present struggle to prevent others from copying your product and profiting from it. American businessman of Shark Tank fame, Mark Cuban, said, “Know your stuff. Have an angle. Know how to grow business, how to develop products, have patents and an undeveloped market that could be huge.”

The founding fathers of the United States recognized the value of Intellectual Property (IP), and they gave powers through the Constitution to Congress, to safeguard it. Patent and copyright laws enacted by Congress help protect creative work of individuals and encourage others to become creative.The 16th US President Abraham Lincoln said, of patents, “(They) began in England in 1624, and in this country with the adoption of our Constitution. Before then, any man [might] instantly use what another man had invented, so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this, secured to the inventor for a limited time exclusive use of his inventions, and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things.”

Technological development a century ago, was quite different from what it is today. America’s pioneering inventors like Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Alexander Graham Bell, to name a famed few, all had one thing in common – they all operated from the outside of corporate entities. Yet, from the middle of the 20th century, the modern corporation totally controlled patenting. For instance, from 1900-2000, states with more innovative capabilities like Massachusetts had four times more patents than more laid back states like Wyoming.

Over the years, however, the IP system got overworked and collapsed under the burden of sheer numbers. A fatigued Patent and Trademark Office, too exhausted for interrogation, issued too many patents for clearly sub-standard products, to be sold in markets that were unable to support patented products. Low quality patents led to a large number of court cases, leading to issues of legitimacy of IP, striking at the heart of IP laws and the process of patenting true inventions.

However, safeguarding true innovations by registering patents is an important constitutional right and responsibility. It is essential to encourage technological research and development and the marketing of patented products.

The patent system in the US, therefore, is the lifeblood of an invention and innovation-oriented economy.Patented startups and new ventures attract capital more easily than businesses with no patent. Furthermore, patented startups are more likely to go public than those without. The Department of Commerce statistics indicate that 38.2% of the US economy comprises patented industries, which also provide 30% of all US employment. As a total, these industries offer 45.5 million good, high-paying jobs.

In reality, many industries do not really need patents, and some might even benefit from not having a patent. However, for some industries, like pharmaceuticals, patents are essential. Medical drugs go through a very expensive and laborious process of testing to ensure they are safe for human use and effective to counter the particular sicknesses they are supposed to cure. If such pharmaceutical companies were not protected by patents, rival companies would be able to make cheaper substitutes as soon as the product is on the market, and so steal the profits from the company that toiled to make the product. Research and development would never happen if patents are not around to protect companies’ rights in exclusivity for a period of time to earn back the fortune spent on drug trials.

So it is that many components that need to fit in to ensure inventions are successful. Disrupting the status quo is the mission of invention, and achieving a better, more effective product is like discovering the pot of gold at rainbow’s end. Albert Einstein summed up the essence of it when he said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

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