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Celebrating Constitution Day with Discussion of Patents as Property Rights

Friday, September 20, 2013
At a time of “patent trolls” and high-stakes suits over patent infringements, some say that the U.S. patent system is broken; that it creates monopolies squelching innovation.

Dr. Adam Mossoff, professor of law at George Mason University and a nationally recognized expert on the constitutional protections of intellectual property rights, begs to differ. He was the featured speaker at Marymount’s tenth annual Constitution Day Luncheon, which celebrated the 226th anniversary of the Constitution.

Titled “Patents as Property Rights: The Uniquely American Constitutional Mandate for Promoting Innovation,” his talk focused on the Constitutional protections of inventions, which treats them as the sole property of the individual.

Dr. Mossoff explained, “The Constitution guarantees individuals the natural right to the fruits of their own work.” He pointed out that in England, inventors had to beg the crown for a patent and couldn’t sell or license it to others.

“When we broke from England, we were an agrarian society and in debt.” Dr. Mossoff stated. “The American definition of patents as property, and our patent system, made possible the industrial revolution. We dazzled the world at the World’s Fair of 1851.” Other countries soon copied our system.

The Patent Office, now the Patent and Trademark Office, was actually the first government agency created. Dr. Mossoff pointed out that patent infringement is similar to trespassing on property. He said. “It’s equivalent to jumping a fence and walking across your land.”

Of course the patent owner also has the right to give away his invention. The foundation of the Internet is based on a couple of patents that were made available to all.

Today’s smart-phone wars and suits by patent trolls (companies that buy and license patents) involve big money and raise concerns that our patent system needs a major overhaul. But such controversies are not new.

“Licensing has always been a central piece of industry,” Dr. Mossoff asserts, while acknowledging that tweaks are sometimes needed. “Whenever there is new creation of technology, people rush in.” It’s through the courts that value and rights are defined. There are also 11 bills currently under consideration in Congress to make revisions to patent laws.

Dr. Mossoff agrees with Daniel Webster, who said, “The right of the inventor is a high property; it is the fruit of his mind…and he ought to be protected in the enjoyment of it.”
The Constitution Day Luncheon and presentation was hosted by MU’s Department of History and Politics as the annual springboard event for the university’s American Heritage Initiative, an educational program to advance understanding of and commitment to American founding principles among Marymount students and the wider community. Pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution were handed out at the event.

– Pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution
PHOTO 2 – Dr. Adam Mossoff
PHOTO 3 – Piyali Das, a graduate student pursuing an M.S. in Information Technology, takes notes during the presentation.
PHOTO 4 – Dr. Patrick Mullins (right), assistant professor of history, with Dr. Adam Mossoff
PHOTO 5 – Students chat with Dr. Mossoff and pick up copies of the U.S. Constitution.