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Empowered Patent System Will Work in L.A.’s Favor

California is known for its high-tech innovation economy, so it’s no surprise that the state’s businesses are focused on improving the patent system.

The state Assembly has convened hearings in the past to discuss concerns over abuses of the system, and California’s congressional delegation has played an integral role in shaping federal legislation on patent policy. There’s a good reason for this – IP-intensive industries account for 7.4 million jobs in California, making up nearly one-third of civilians employed in California and the highest proportion in the country.

Clearly, businesses in California have a vested interest in making sure the patent system supports all the state’s innovative companies, including big and small inventors, and those in Silicon Valley and elsewhere across the state. Los Angeles places fourth in the country for the highest average number of patents per year. And small businesses are big users of the patent system. The 23 million small businesses in America on average produce 16 times more patents per employee compared with larger firms.

I can personally attest to the profound value our patent system brings to IP-intensive companies. Fifteen years ago, Second Sight was founded in Sylmar with the mission of creating retinal prostheses to give some useful sight back to blind people. Back then, we had an audacious idea that seemed impossible. But more than a decade and $100 million investment in research later, this bold idea is a reality.

Late last year, Larry Hester became one of America’s first commercial recipients of our Argus II bionic eye. The implanted hardware and state-of-the-art software allowed him to differentiate between light and dark for the first time in more than 30 years. Watching Hester regain his vision is truly inspiring. He and his family’s reaction when the technician activated the device spoke volumes about just how impactful this invention will be to their lives.

The bionic eye research has resulted in more than 300 patents in software, packaging and other technology. Without the protections of our patent system, we would not have been able to raise the investment we needed to bring our invention to market or to protect those investments. Without such protections, we would not have been able to finally take our company public in November.

The benefits of a system that protects inventors and incentivizes innovation extend even further into our economy. Industries that rely on patents contribute more than 40 million direct and indirect jobs, with many of these jobs in fields such as research, engineering and manufacturing, which pay 42 percent more than positions in non-IP-intensive industries.

Protection

Furthermore, nearly all venture capitalist-backed biotech and medical device firms are protecting their inventions with patents. The ability of a smaller business to attract venture capital funding empowers it to compete in the fierce global market. For example, a small business heading into an IPO will raise an additional $1.9 million per patent on average. Having gone through the process that so many small businesses must endure, I can confidently say that, if we didn’t have the funding to continue our long-term research protected by our patents, we could not develop the devices that are restoring vision to the blind.

The American patent system is tightly woven into the success stories of our greatest innovations. This is why my company has joined the Partnership for American Innovation, which includes some of the biggest names in American innovation – Apple, DuPont, Microsoft, Pfizer, GE, IBM and Ford. The PAI believes protecting intellectual property is essential to America’s economic growth, jobs and ability to compete in markets around the world.

Our mission is to restore sight to people who cannot see. All innovative companies in the United States must be able to protect their investments in cutting-edge research and development to maintain America’s economic leadership. A strong patent system enables people with equally bold ideas to bring their visions to life.

Scott Dunbar is senior patent counsel at Second Sight, a medical device company based in Sylmar.

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