The Patent Problem

The US patent system goes back to the nation’s founding; it is explicitly delineated in the Constitution, which, in the name of “the progress of science and the useful arts,” gives Congress the power to grant inventors “the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” for a limited time—generally 20 years—during which period competitors are forbidden from selling similar products. Without those assurances, there would arguably be no incentive to innovate; why invest money and effort on a breakthrough that anyone could then take and sell? Patents created a business environment that led to such landmark technologies as the cotton gin, Morse code, the Yale lock, the Xerox machine, the laser, and the Hula Hoop.

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