Economic Impact of Third-Generation Wireless Technology, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) argues that the United States should allocate some of the spectrum available to third-generation (3G) wireless technology that will provide high-speed, mobile access to the Internet and other communications networks. These devices will transmit data at up to 2 megabits per second, about as fast as a cable modem, and will adhere to international standards that will make it possible to use the device anywhere in the world.

Several European countries have already allocated and auctioned spectrum for 3G use, but in the United States the three bands of spectrum being considered for 3G use are already used by analog cellular phone providers, the Department of Defense, fixed wireless providers, satellite broadcasters, school systems, and private video teleconferences. Although some of the spectrum now allocated to digital wireless telephone service could be used by its owners for 3G, the CEA report considers this unlikely, because it would make this bandwidth more scarce and therefore more expensive for voice phone service and would require replacing billions of dollars in capital stock such as transmission equipment. Besides, squeezing too much activity into this bandwidth could exhaust its capacity.

The government’s decision on allocating new bandwidth for 3G should not be a make-or-break decision for this technology. However, it will affect the pace at which new services become available, the cost of those services, and the range of services that are offered. And it will inevitably affect other technologies that could use the same bandwidth.


In the summer 2000 edition of Issues in Science and Technology, U.S. patent commissioner Q. Todd Dickinson described how the Patent Office is keeping up with new developments in technology and updating its practices to ensure that they facilitate innovation. He pointed out that all U.S. patents granted since 1976 are now available on the Internet and that the Patent Office had in the previous 2 years hired more than 500 new examiners in its Technology Center, which examines software, computers, and business method applications. He also praised new legislation that requires publication of most patent applications within 18 months after the U.S. filing or priority date, unless the applicant states that no application has been filed for a patent in another country.

Dickinson concluded by explaining that what is really needed is global harmonization of procedural and substantive requirements of patents. Too much time and effort are wasted meeting divergent requirements. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) adopted a Patent Law Treaty in June 2000 aimed at harmonizing patent procedures. It will come into force once it is ratified by ten WIPO states. Harmonizing substantive requirements will be more difficult. A key issue is that the United States has a first-to-invent system, whereas the rest of the world uses a first-to-file approach. Earlier attempts to resolve substantive

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