After historic gains last fall, Republicans now control both houses of Congress and can set the legislative agenda for the next two years.
With such a strong conservative majority in place, you would expect Republicans to pursue a pro-growth agenda designed to signal to American workers and entrepreneurs that America is now open for business.
In some cases (energy and taxes in particular), Capitol Hill has a sent a strong message that it intends to move forward with polices that will spur economic growth and job creation. In the innovation sector, however, I am stunned that some conservatives on Capitol Hill that I greatly respect are supporting legislation that would undermine our Constitution and harm American innovation in the name of supposed patent reform.
Patent reform. It sounds great, right? There’s nothing that politicians like to claim credit for more than reform. But patent reform, as it’s being sold in the halls of Congress, is a direct attack on intellectual property rights and the Constitutional protection of property rights. Our founding fathers recognized the importance of intellectual property protection in a thriving, free economy, which is why they enshrined these rights into the Constitution.
In the Senate and as a candidate I have supported common sense reforms of our patent system. However, the reforms that have been advanced would harm patents across the board, rather than address specific areas. The bill would reward some powerful tech companies at the expense of the American worker and entrepreneurship.
Why conservatives would work to pass legislation that leaves America’s inventors vulnerable to China’s counterfeiters is mindboggling. Our patent system is the envy of the free world. Why? Because we offer entrepreneurs protections for their intellectual property that entice investors to help bring these ideas to market. Does following China’s intellectual property system sound like something conservatives should be part of? Absolutely not.
I have long been a critic of China for, among many things, its trade abuses and currency manipulation. As an emerging global power, China continues to deal unfairly in the commercial space and has fostered theft of American intellectual property. If so-called “patent reform” becomes law, it will weaken patent protections for American inventors and leave them with little recourse to protect their intellectual property.
Think about it. If someone weakened your ability to protect your ideas from being stolen, how would you be able to convince an investor to invest the capital necessary to make your idea a reality?
As Americans, we often take for granted our innovation advantage. This advantage, however, is not a coincidence. It’s rooted firmly in our history of strong patent protections. If we are going to remain the beacon of innovation, we cannot allow our patent system to be undermined and weakened.
What is happening on Capitol Hill is a perfect storm whose (negative) impact will be felt for decades to come. We have a president eager to reward his cronies in Silicon Valley and we have Republicans desperately looking for ways to work with the president while also seeming “pro-tech.” Helping President Obama dismantle America’s innovation economy is not something to be proud of.
Haven’t conservatives learned anything from the last six years? Comprehensive government solutions are not the answer. Might there be areas that could be tweaked to ensure quicker processing of patent applications? Sure. Might we also want to consider focusing our efforts on minimizing real patent trolls rather than targeting universities and small inventors? Absolutely. Do the bills floating around Congress achieve either? Not unless you believe it’s prudent to burn down a house to fix a leaky faucet.
Republicans, now in control of the legislative branch, have two years to show the American people that they can govern. Focusing on issues like lowering the tax burden and lessening the burden of government regulations that ultimately impact American workers will show that we can be trusted. Participating in the gutting of the patent system at the behest of multi-national corporations while sacrificing America’s innovation advantage will reveal conservatives to be out of touch.
Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is chairman of Patriot Voices.