The Conservative Case Against Patent Reform

Ken Blackwell Former Ohio Secretary of State
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After six years of Barack Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress pledging to “fix” every sector of the economy with one-size-fits-all Washington “solutions” (and failing miserably), you will never guess what some Republicans in Washington are planning to do in January when they get complete control of Capitol Hill. If you guessed that they’re planning to join the White House legislate a government takeover of another sector of our economy, you would be right.

After the attempts to “fix” health care and our financial system through big government overhauls, some are looking to rush into “patent reform” that would overhaul the entire system of patents, which is a critical part of our constitutional protection of property rights. There has been a great deal of speculation in the media and among pundits that Republicans may move quickly on this issue to demonstrate that they are willing to work with the president on an issue.

America’s position as a superpower on the global stage is tenuous, we continue to sputter through a recovery, our foreign policy is in shambles, the promise of Obama’s executive amnesty is looming, the VA is rebuilding, the IRS has continued to roam without accountability, and the EPA is devising new ways to crush American business and jobs. That patent “reform” is anywhere near a list of priorities for the new Republican majority is mind-boggling.

The push for patent reform has been loudest from a few powerful companies – like Google – who would benefit from a weakening of our patent system. If you haven’t been paying attention, Google has probably been President Obama’s staunchest ally in corporate America and there has essentially been a revolving door in this administration of Google executives taking high profile tech positions. Patent reform is another example of crony capitalism.

Ronald Reagan said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Why then are Republicans so eager to ally themselves with Barack Obama to pass a bill that is the worst example of crony capitalism they claim to oppose?

The most vocal supporters of “patent reform” on the Republican side cling to tort reform as the reason for their support. Really? You’re going to sell this to conservatives as tort reform when patent litigation has decreased over the last year and overall litigation has remained low and steady at two percent for the last two decades? The protection of property rights is one of the most fundamental conservative principles and we cannot surrender them to deal with a supposed litigation crisis that does not exist.

Rather than address specific, valid concerns about patent troll abuse, Republicans in Washington are linking arms with liberals to weaken American innovation and dismantle a patent system designed by the founders that has been an engine for economic growth in this country. Current proposals by “reform” advocates do not distinguish between so-called trolls and legitimate patents and this is a huge mistake. Just like the other big government overhauls we have embarked on in recent years, this would target the whole incentive structure for innovation – with unintended consequences – rather than address specific areas needing reform. Weakening property rights to pursue a pyrrhic victory is in no way conservative.

Intellectual property theft is rampant in China, yet Republicans are supporting a plan that would emulate their patent protection models. Our patent system and our protection of Intellectual Property is what sets America apart. We should be protecting our inventors from theft and ensuring American innovation is on the cutting edge, not undermining property rights. The fact remains that strong patents are essential to encouraging investment and innovation. American has led the worldwide innovation revolution. To surrender our advantage to the Chinese makes absolutely no sense.

Does the phrase “first, do no harm” ring a bell? That should be the motto for conservatives going forward. In the next congress, Republicans should promote an agenda focused on economic growth, job creation, and American innovation. “Patent reform” does not fit that mold.

Congressional Republicans should not be an accomplice to the unwise and destructive goals the current proposals represent. “Patent reform” in its present form is not conservative. It represents everything conservatives despise, namely big government and crony capitalism. Republicans should oppose all efforts to violate the fundamental property rights our founders envisioned.

Ken Blackwell, former Secretary of State in Ohio, is the Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment at the Family Research Council. He serves on the board of directors of the Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.