By Christopher Padilla
Abraham Lincoln – the only U.S. president to hold a patent – once said: “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”
We at IBM couldn’t agree more. And it’s critical the nation continues to protect the patent system to encourage the innovations that drive our economy. IBM set a new U.S. patent record today, achieving 21 consecutive years of patent leadership with more than 6,800 U.S. patents in 2013.
This accomplishment represents the company’s unyielding commitment to research and innovation. IBM invests about $6 billion a year in research and development.
This investment also contributes to boosting the U.S. economy and competitiveness because these patents are for inventions that matter — inventions that meet our clients’ demands and make the world a better place. They will enable fundamental advancements across key technology domains, including Big Data and analytics, cloud, mobile and, importantly, software.
Our clients want an innovation partner who can help them apply and integrate technology in ways that deliver new and lasting value. These innovative solutions always include software and that software is integral to the solution. New innovations oftentimes require investments of unprecedented size, and patents are necessary to protect these investments.
For example, U.S. patent #8,510,296 enables IBM Watson to more accurately assess questions posed in natural language and determine confidence in the accuracy of potential answers.
IBM Watson technology has the potential to dramatically improve the way society solves problems across a range of important industries from health care to financial services to education. Today we are experiencing threats to the American patent system’s ability to promote innovation. Entities are unfairly asserting patents against companies, claiming the patent covers more than what was invented and leveraging the high cost of litigation to obtain settlements.
IBM is a strong supporter of legislative action to reduce these threats and lawsuits by addressing these entities’ abusive behaviors and the litigation cost asymmetries that they exploit. We must ensure, however, that this legislative action does not harm the country’s ability to innovate.
One such proposal is to expand the covered business method patent proceeding at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to cover software. This proposal would directly threaten the very innovations that boost our economy, like IBM Watson, as well as other software inventions important for U.S. economic growth.
As the largest exporter of software from the U.S. – $6 billion in 2012 that is tied to thousands of U.S. jobs – and a significant annual investor in research and development that produces many advancements in software, IBM knows very intimately how patent protection plays a critical role in economic growth.
This proposal discriminates against a specific area of technology and will diminish U.S. competitiveness by devaluing a class, or classes, of U.S. patents and will invite our trading partners to do the same. And it’s not just the information technology industry that is affected. While patent protection is integral for innovation for the U.S. software industry, software is increasingly the way innovation is implemented in all industries, such as semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and traditional manufacturing.
The patent system is the bedrock of innovation and we must work to protect it. We urge Congress to act on patent reform measures that will reduce the incentive to bring nuisance patent suits and to drop any measure that would directly harm critical software innovations.
Otherwise, we are at risk of minimizing the “fuel of interest” that Lincoln appropriately identified as so vital to the “fire of genius.”
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