An interview with Congressman Thomas Massie


“I can tell you, every day Congress is in session, there are lobbyists here trying to weaken the patent system,” Congressman Thomas Massie explained to me when I interviewed him on June 28, 2017.

In Massie’s words, those companies that come to Capitol Hill and lobby to weaken the patent system want to get into new fields, but the problem is they didn’t invent in those fields, so they face problems. Patent problems. A lot of those companies want to become automobile manufacturers, or cell phone manufacturers, or they want to write software for operating systems, but they didn’t invent in those areas and they don’t own the patents that have historically been the touchstone of innovation ownership. “They’d love to just come in and start playing in those fields and start using their size and scale as an advantage, and to them, patents look like a hindrance,” Massie explained. “They are here in Congress looking to weaken patents and they are not just interested in weakening patents issued in the future, they are looking to weaken all patents.”

The distinction Massie draws about the interest in weakening all patents is an important one. Frequently, those that lobby for rules and laws that weaken patents claim to be doing so simply as part of an effort to ensure greater quality. Massie sees reform efforts differently though.

“Reform is not about strengthening the patent granting system, but about making it harder for patent owners to assert patents to protect their rights,” Massie said emphatically. “They didn’t read the Constitution and come to say they have a better way more in line with what the Founding Fathers had in mind. They just want all the patents to be public domain today. It is very short sighted to attack the patent system in this way.”

Unfortunately, it is easy to understand, at least from a mechanical/process perspective, how it is that those companies that would prefer the demise of the patent system seem to continually get their way on Capitol Hill. “There is a certain critical size companies reach before they hire lobbyists, which means only the big companies are represented on Capitol Hill,” Massie said. “Patents help the little guy, whether you are a one person company or a company with 10,000 employees, you have the same rights. That is repulsive to the company with 10,000 employees.”

One of the well-worn talking points used by those lobbying against a strong patent system relates in one way or another to the belief that inventors will invent regardless of whether they can obtain a patent, because that is what inventors do. Massie disagrees.

“I’m often amused at some of the academics that talk about intellectual property,” Massie said. “They talk about inventions happening in the same vigor even if inventors are not compensated with a patent, and that notion is ridiculous. You have to make a living somehow. People will go into the field of invention if it is a lucrative field and they won’t if it isn’t.”

“Don’t be surprised if people don’t want to go into [inventing] if the reward system or compensation mechanism are taken away,” Massie said emphatically. The answer is simple: make inventing a lucrative field of endeavor for children to aspire to be a part of the industry. More importantly, children need role models. “If you take away the compensation for their heroes – their role models – if you impoverish their role models, how are they role models any more?”

For more of my interview with Congressman Massie please see: Thomas Massie: America’s Inventor Congressman.

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