I am sitting, looking at my National Inventors Hall of Fame medal. Of the many awards which have come my way, this is the one that I value most highly. On one side is an engraving of Thomas Edison with Abraham Lincoln. I am wondering what Thomas Edison thinks of the revision of our US Patent System which Commissioner Bruce Lehman and Senator Orrin Hatch and the international conglomerates are trying to perpetrate on the small inventors of our country. I feel a close affinity to Thomas Edison. We both began our careers in humble circumstances. He performed chemical experiments in a railway mail car between sorting letters. I built the first successful implantable cardiac pacemakers in the barn behind my house (before there was an FDA!). We both valued and used the US Patent System to create socially responsible companies that became world market leaders in their respective fields. We both created jobs for countless workers. The pacemaker market, non-existent when I started, is now a world-wide, three billion dollar industry. And my battery company now makes or licenses over 90% of their implantable batteries.
My company depends on patent protection. I myself have been granted over 150 patents. The US Patent System has served us well.
As I consider the component parts of Senator Hatch's Senate Bill S. 507, which may come up for a vote this Spring, I think I see a frown gathering on Edison's visage.
Publishing our secrets 18 months after filing unless we agree to forego foreign filings? The Europeans and Japanese would love to rule us out of their markets by so simple a ploy.
Corporatization of the Patent Office? Do we need the non-productive Taj Mahal that Commissioner Lehman wants to build across the Potomac, with public money, without even public search rooms? Even his own examiners don't want it.
Harmonization of US and Foreign patent laws? The US Patent System was designed by Madison and Washington to protect the small inventor. But Foreign patent laws are designed to make technology easily available to the large corporations. Go down the list of inventors in the US Inventors Hall of Fame and you will find that nearly all of our hi-tech industries have come from American patents originally issued to small inventors. Our present US Patent System has served us well. Why change it?
The clear insult of S. 507 to the small inventor, who has made America great, explains why a small handful of us, along with 28 Nobel laureates, Joanne Hayes Rine's "Inventors Digest", Steve Shore's Alliance for Innovation, and numerous editorial writers in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, have succeeded in blocking this legislation from Senate action. We are grateful for a growing opposition within the Senate itself from the Small Business Committee and from the floor leadership. A single Democratic amendment effectively gutted the House version of this bill. We "Davids" actually seem to be winning this war against the "Goliaths" of the present administration and the international conglomerates.
Now I'm sure I see a broadening smile on Edison's visage on my medal. I am encouraged to put on my medal and to go and talk to a couple more senators. Thank you Thomas Edison for the heritage you have handed down to us. With your inspiration, with hard work on our part, and with the Lord's help, we will earnestly try to hand it down to our children and to future generations. Your America deserves no less.
Dr. Wilson Greatbatch is the inventor of the implantable cardiac pacemaker. He is the recipient of numerous awards and lives with his wife Eleanor near Buffalo, New York. At the age of 78, he still continues to work on various scientific research projects. Dr. Greatbatch also serves as the Vice-Grandmaster of the Order of Alexander the Great for Art and Science.
Copyright 1999 Museum of European Art