• Law, Policy—and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Did I Hear President Obama Utter the Word “Patent?”

An issue included in the State of the Union.

January 29, 2014

I don’t think I have ever heard a term of intellectual property in a State of the Union speech before!  How exciting!    And why?  May I recommend Jaffe and Lerner’s book, “Innovation and Its Discontents” for an early, solid treatment of the problems in this area that journalists on occasion have followed up on.  (See link, for example.) 

Why would the President raise this issue to high level of a State of Union address?  I assume because it has become clear to just about everyone, major corporations not least, that the system as revised in the early 1990’s is so flawed as to be serving almost no one except the filing attorneys in the favored state of Texas.  In short, there is a growing consensus that innovation is suffering for the failure to address the unintended consequences of the most recent round of legislative patent revisions. 

But where was mention of the other areas of reform in laws affected by digital technologies or the information age?  Dear heaven, here I go again.  Copyright rings the closest bell because it is an intellectual property cousin to patent, and while we are at it, it might be helpful to review trademark too.  Electronic surveillance needs no introduction in the Snowden age.  It is no accident that President Obama addressed that matter several days ago as a way to avoid it in this State of the Union setting.  Export control law is increasingly coming under attack as keeping important educational information, such as MOOCs, out of countries on the watch list – countries that most need this vital “Voice of America” to reach their people.   And again, we have a name to go with an issue: Aaron Swartz speaks to the need to update network security laws.  That concept had to be miles away from the President’s speechwriters last night.

The gaps in each of these laws deserve attention, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Congress, informed by advocates from a variety of sectors; higher education and scholars, corporate sectors and industry researchers, political advocates on all sides, should recognize that the information age requires intelligent, concerted and thoughtful legislation that looks to the future.  The Executive branch should be on top of this effort, getting its offices (Copyright, Patent, F.C.C., F.T.C., Commerce Department, etc.) prepared, schooled and peppered with white papers and talking points on these issues.  And higher education should get in the mix early, earnestly and actively of these discussions.

To hear the President utter the “P” word gave me a lift last night.  It is a start!  But President Obama, we have a long way to go!


Share Article


Tracy Mitrano

Back to Top