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Senators: We've introduced legislation that will help the US keep its competitive edge

From our world-class universities and our unmatched workforce to our culture of entrepreneurship and drive for success, there are many reasons America’s economy is the strongest in the world.

But a bedrock of our economy is too often overlooked: our intellectual property system.

Intellectual property rights have their own clause in the Constitution because our Founding Fathers recognized the importance of encouraging invention and innovation. They wanted the United States to be a place where we looked to the future and constantly strived for progress, and all the way back in the eighteenth century, the Founders laid the groundwork for a strong patent system that made the U.S. the most innovative country in history. On Wednesday, we introduced a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate that seeks to continue this proud tradition.

Why is this effort so important? Even today, laws protecting intellectual property increase job growth and boost our economy. In 2014, patent-heavy industries accounted for more than $800 billion in value added to the U.S. economy and 3.9 million American jobs. They’re good jobs too—those in research, development, and manufacturing pay 74 percent more on average than positions in other sectors.

Patent-supported technology and science-intensive companies don’t just support good jobs, they also contribute to a higher standard of living by generating life-saving drugs, new consumer products, and faster, better services. From the garage to the lab to the factory, we depend on innovators to be able to invent and protect their ideas.

But our patent laws are losing strength, and as a result, the U.S. is losing its competitive edge. This year, the United States fell from first to tenth in the world in patent-system strength as ranked by U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the creation of new startups in the U.S. has slowed. In 2015, the United States’ share of the world’s venture capital fell to 54 percent, down from 83 percent in 1996, according to a recent report from the National Venture Capital Association. Meanwhile, just in the last few years, both China and India have doubled their share of this funding.

These statistics should worry all of us.

Why are we falling behind? A few reasons:

First, thanks to recent changes, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can now reconsider whether it should have granted a patent in the first place, which has made it too difficult for people to protect their inventions. Some inventors’ patents are challenged over and over again, in proceedings that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Small businesses, let alone garage inventors, can’t afford the costs to take on big corporations that infringe on their rights.

Second, even an inventor that wins these court and agency battles can end up with little to show for it. Many courts require the infringer only to pay the inventor the value of a license, instead of forcing them to pull products with another’s technology off the shelves. That’s like telling a homeowner that he cannot force out a squatter but instead can only claim “reasonable rent,” even after winning a lawsuit. It leaves small businesses little leverage when negotiating with bigger companies, which can take the inventor’s idea and refuse to pay until the court orders them to. This destroys the patent’s ability to protect the idea’s market value.

These legal changes have been a real detriment to our ability to innovate and grow. That’s why we’ve introduced the STRONGER Patents Act in the Senate this week. Our bill would place limits on how many times the Patent Office can reconsider a patent. It would also make sure the courts treat patent rights just like any other property right.

The challenges we face as a country need the attention of our inventors. Our inventors, in turn, need the backing of our laws, so they can get the funding they need to turn their innovations into the next revolutionary breakthroughs that we see in the marketplace.

The STRONGER Patents Act will help our intellectual property laws keep up with the innovators, so their ideas can fuel the American economy for generations to come, just as the Founders envisioned.

Commentary by Chris Coons, a Democratic United States Senator from Delaware and Tom Cotton, a Republican United States Senator from Arkansas. Follow them on Twitter @SenTomCotton and @ChrisCoons.

Follow CNBC’s Opinion section on Twitter @CNBCopinion.

Source: cnbc economy
Senators: We've introduced legislation that will help the US keep its competitive edge

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