Creativity in science and technology may be on the rise again in America. Based on the filing of patent applications, after a decade of declining interest , invention in the United States seems to be in the early stages of new growth. For a nation that has taken its technological preeminence for granted too long, any sign that such a revival is taking place is good news indeed.
It is also heartening that Congress appears to be nurturing this movement. Recent laws, for example, have been enacted to allow inventors to keep patent rights to inventions developed with federal funds.
Another law is currently under consideraton by Congress that will protect the inventor against time lost in getting government clearance for his inventions. Still another bill creates judicial machinery for bringing more uniformity in judging the strength of a patent. It has been said that more positive patent legislation has been passed in the past two years than in the previous twenty.
It is unfortunate, however, that this legislative effort, no matter how laudable, comes nowhere close to creating an environment for a real renaissance of technological innovation. At the heart of the matter is a half-century of neglect and, at times, a misguided attack on the patent system itself. A state of deterioration has set in - a generalized condition that cannot be corrected by a few narrowly focused laws.
Consider, for example, the problem of the cost of patent litigation, which has become, for many litigants, the most expensive in the business law spectrum. Many inventors simply cannot afford to challenge infringers. If the inventor chooses to go on a court odyssey to protect his patent, he may find himself at the mercy of those who know little about his technology and the process of invention, not to mention his risk of having his patent invalidated and being fined if he loses.
Consider also the problem of simply defining what an invention is. In the early days of the system, to be patentable an invention had only to be novel and useful. Just three years ago, however, a high court said invention is an ''amorphous, ephemeral, impossible-to-define term.'' This has led the courts to set tougher standards for inventions that combine old elements than for completely ''new'' inventions. Unfortunately, though they may contribute strongly to man's dominion over his environment, in the real world few inventions are totally new.
It is easy to see how creativity can be stifled in an atmosphere like this. What the country sorely needs is to study the entire patent system from top to bottom and, in light of long-term national goals, enact a comprehensive patent reform law.
In today's competitive world it makes no sense to have a patent system that hinders the pursuit of excellence.