IP: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Frank Cullen

The holidays are just around the corner, and many Americans have already started searching for the perfect gifts. And while they may not know it, shoppers have intellectual property protections to thank for almost every product that they’ll put in their carts in the coming weeks.

It’s nearly impossible to think of a best-selling kid’s toy that didn’t benefit from IP protections. Classics — from Legos and Rubik’s Cubes to Barbies and Yo-Yos — all enjoyed patent or trademark protections at one point or another. And today’s tech-centric products often have far more than one or two patents. Modern smartphones are the product of hundreds of thousands of patented inventions. Amazon holds over 260 patent families for voice recognition technology, including the ones used in Alexa.

It’s hard to imagine any of these now-ubiquitous technologies existing without the incentives that IP protections provide to inventors, including researchers employed at nonprofit entities like universities.

In fact, some of today’s most revolutionary technologies began not in private-sector R&D wings, but in university labs. Bluetooth 3.0, a capability many Americans take for granted, incorporates patented innovations from over 30,000 patent holders, 200 of which are universities. Last year, the University of California System alone was granted 589 patents.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers are proposing to weaken a law, popularly known as the Bayh-Dole Act, that allows universities to own, patent, and license their ideas and inventions. The academic tech transfer system supported by this law has spurred up to $1.9 trillion in U.S. economic output and supported nearly 6.5 million jobs. Americans ought to be wary of attempts to tinker with a system that’s working well.

IP protections have spurred innovation across a variety of industries, and deserve credit for nearly every new product that hits the market. Without these protections, the holiday tradition of gift-giving just wouldn’t be the same.

Frank Cullen is executive director of the Council for Innovation Promotion.

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