Obama to Fund Entrepreneurs in Latin America

Sometimes I wonder if I am dreaming.  Virtually all of us have been affected by the economic crisis that has gripped the world, so no one can really claim to be uniquely impacted above and beyond others, although to each their own circumstance no doubt feels unique.  There are tried and true solutions that historically have lead to economic growth and prosperity, so the fact that our leaders seem more interested in pursuing strategies that would be first time successes even if they do work, because there is no historical evidence to suggest that spending more, printing money and increasing the size of government will do anything other than make things worse.  You cannot borrow and spend your way out of debt.  It was Daniel Hannan, a previously unknown member of the European Union Parliament, who best summed this up in a YouTube clip that has been viewed more than 2.2 million times.  Yet we continue to borrow and spend, and now U.S. taxpayers are being asked to give away $448 million to other countries to help citizens of those countries hit by the economic downturn, including $100 million for small business and entrepreneurs in Latin America, according to Bloomberg.com.  Mr. Obama, if you want to assist small business and entrepreneurs there are plenty here in the United States that could use a helping hand.  And, by the way, the best thing you could do would be to come up with a national technology policy to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the U.S., and you can start with fixing the United States Patent and Trademark Office!
During his opening remarks at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, President Barack Obama said:

We’re also committed to combating inequality and creating prosperity from the bottom up. This is something that I’ve spoken about in the United States, and it’s something that I believe applies across the region. I’ve asked Congress for $448 million in immediate assistance for those who have been hit hardest by the crisis beyond our borders. And today, I’m pleased to announce a new Microfinance Growth Fund for the hemisphere that can restart the lending that can power businesses and entrepreneurs in each and every country that’s represented here. This is not charity. Let me be clear: This is not charity. Together, we can create a broader foundation of prosperity that builds new markets and powers new growth for all peoples in the hemisphere, because our economies are intertwined.

I am all for helping small businesses and entrepreneurs, and I am not naive enough to miss the reality that the global economy is intertwined, but at what point in time are we actually going to do something that is calculated to succeed?  At what point in time do we focus on fixing our own problems?  President Obama and his supporters seem fond of saying that he, and they, can focus on more than one thing at time.  That is no doubt quite helpful, but can we possibly limit ourselves to maybe the top 10, 20 or even 100 things that need to be fixed before we move on?  I will speak only for myself, but Mr. President, helping small businesses and entrepreneurs in Latin American is not in my opinion in the top 10, 20, 100 or even the top 1,000 things to focus on.  This is our tax money, and if helping small businesses and entrepreneurs is so important (which it is) then we should spend that money on American small business and American entrepreneurs in the United States of America!

When I heard this part of Obama’s speech earlier today I had a wave of emotion run through my body.  I don’t know whether it was a panic attack, an adrenaline surge, complete and total disbelief, or resignation.  What I do know is that it is becoming nearly criminal for our leaders to ignore the real problem facing us.  First, the housing market caused this economic crisis so why not spend some time trying to focus on that!  Second, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship can lead us out of this horrible mess, just like it always does whenever we face a recession.  Since I bought a house, sold a house and bought another house all during this horrible downturn I think it is safe to say that I am not a housing expert, so allow me to focus on that which I do know.  I have been writing for many months that a coherent plan to revitalize the United States Patent Office would pay tremendous dividends and pave the way to economic growth and high paying jobs.  Which part of this is difficult to understand?  I am more than happy to t.a.l.k… s.l.o.w.e.r… if that will help, but for crying out loud, can we focus on solutions that have a chance at succeeding?  Please!

I feel like I am traveling through another dimension en route to the land of the different, the bizarre and the unexplainable.  I realize that our leaders in Washington, D.C. are trying something different, perhaps even radical, but I just don’t understand how spending more money is going to get us out of debt.  It seems pretty clear that spending more money is only going to get us into more debt.  Now, if we were investing that would be a different story altogether, but investing in Latin America just doesn’t make any sense at all.  If we want to create economic growth then why not actually do it in a way that creates wealth, rather than in a way that creates debt?  Sounds logical to me.  The best investment that could ever be made would be an investment that costs nothing (or next to nothing), creates wealth and causes investors to jump into the market and take money off the sidelines.  But whatever could that vehicle of growth be?  Hhhhmmmm…. it is on the tip of my tongue… Oh… yes… of course… The Patent Office could actually issue patents rather than deny them!  The Patent Office could actually follow the law, which says that inventors are presumed to be entitled to a patent unless the examiner can find a good reason why not to issue the patent.  See, the answer has been here all along.

When you apply for a patent you need to file what is called a “patent application.”  That application presently sits there without being read or even looked at for at least a couple years, unless your innovation relates to something particularly important like telecommunications, computers, software, the Internet, complex electronics and green technologies.  In those cases your application will sit there for longer, all without ever being looked at by anyone.  Then an examiner might get around to it at some point, and will probably ultimately reject the claims and force you to file a continuation application of some kind, at which point the Director of the PTO will claim that you are a part of the problem.  Why not try something radical, like issuing patents.  Lets open a Patent Granting Authority and call it the United States Patent Office! 

Intellectual property is unique.  It is intangible because there is nothing there that can be touched.  The rights exist simply because the government says they exist, so if the government, namely President Obama, wants more things patented all he has to do is say the word and order the Patent Office to up the allowance rate.  If that were to occur more independent inventors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, corporations and Fortune 500 companies would obtain more assets.  Since these assets have “value” that would also increase the balance sheet and make the companies more “valuable.”  It would also allow inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses to “value” their innovations higher, creating “value.”  This created “value,” which exists simply because the Patent Office issued a patent, all at no cost to taxpayers, then is attractive to investors who would “invest” start-up businesses and small businesses alike.  This would cause some of the $9 to $10 trillion that is sitting idle in cash reserves in the U.S. to come out of hiding in hopes of getting in on the ground floor of what could be the next big thing.  Did I go slow enough?

The beauty of this type of revitalization of the U.S. patent system is that it costs nothing to tax payers.  We don’t have to bail out another company, or industry, or send $100 million to Latin America.  The U.S. patent system is funded by users who pay fees both to apply for a patent and to keep a patent in good standing once it has issued.  So if the Patent Office actually starts granting patents it is easy to predict that research and development spending will increase, patent applications will go up and assets that create value will become more plentiful.  Easy enough, right?  Unfortunately no.  The reason we are in this mess is because U.S. Presidents have not really understood that the Patent Office was an important post.  It is not a position where you put a political hack, but rather it needs to be filled by someone who really understands the patent system.  Luckily, it seems that President Obama is considering folks who have patent experience, which is definitely a step in the right direction.  I just hope that there are no hidden agendas or biases and the person appointed actually wants to issue patents.  So while it would be nice to have someone with patent experience, it would be even better to have someone on the acquisition of patent rights end of the curve.

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3 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 20, 2009 04:16 pm

    Bob-

    You say: “What’s missing is comprehensive analysis or viable alternative solutions.”

    I give comprehensive analysis and viable alternatives through my blog. I am not the sort who just points to problems, but I must admit, there are far better ways to help US taxpayers than sending money to Latin America to fund innovation and entrepreneurship. So my alternative solution here is to set up a fund to spur innovation in the US rather than spurring innovation in other countries.

    You say: “As an inventor I’ve found it very easy to get my patents issued…”

    I find this difficult to believe given that it is not the experience of attorneys, clients, corporations or inventors. Perhaps if you are seeking extraordinarily narrow patents this could be the case. The Patent Office is increasingly finding is desirable to issue patents that are largely useless because they cover nonsensical inventions or are so narrow as to be unhelpful.

    You say: “I frequently find patents to be an obstacle to building a company.”

    There is no evidence to support this position in literature or history. I would love to hear you try and suppor this.

    You say: “My suggestion is that issuing more licenses to patent attorneys, thereby reducing their hourly rates, might be the most effective way to improve the benefits of patents to business.”

    I am not against issuing more licenses to patent attorneys. There is plenty of work to go around. But even if the PTO issued a license to everyone who applied and even to those who fail the patent bar exam there would not be much of an increase in the number of patent attorneys given attrition and the fact that only several thousand people a year seek to become patent attorneys or agents.

    Also, if you think that forcing hourly rates down would result in adequate protection then I would recommend that you first try the numerous patent attorneys and agents online who advertise that they can prepare and file patent application for between $1,400 to $2,800. You will soon find out that racing to the low cost provider is not a business solution when one is attempting to protect innovation.

    I do appreciate your comments and would love to hear more thoughts. It is always good to have a contrary viewpoint.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for Bob]
    Bob
    April 20, 2009 04:01 pm

    It’s clear from your comments that you’re anxious, like all of us, to see an improvement in the world economy, and in your own. What’s missing is comprehensive analysis or viable alternative solutions. For example, tried and true methods of extracting the global economy from deep recession are not so readily available for analysis. We struggled to leave our last depression behind. It appears that government spending replaced the absent consumer and industry spending, and resulted in an exuberant business cycle that stands as an example of success. You have confused an ideological objective to reduce debt with an economic objective of increasing GDP growth. Today’s spending of tax revenues to restore financial activity become undesirable and inflationary the moment the economy is growing, and should be throttled at that point. As for government debt, it is generally undesirable because, in times like we are currently experiencing, federal debt reduces federal spending necessary to restore growth in the economy. One other point that bears greater analysis is the benefit to industry of change in the patent office. As an inventor I’ve found it very easy to get my patents issued, and I’ve found my patents to afford adequate protection to successful companies. The cost of the attorneys involved was a much greater concern for the viability of my business. In addition, I frequently find patents to be an obstacle to building a company. A valuable analysis might be the number of jobs that are not created due to patents, as a ratio of those that are created. This, and a careful analysis of the cost of patenting, might point to the changes that will have the greatest impact on society and business. My suggestion is that issuing more licenses to patent attorneys, thereby reducing their hourly rates, might be the most effective way to improve the benefits of patents to business.

  • [Avatar for moe]
    moe
    April 20, 2009 12:42 pm

    right again, gene