Cover Image

HARDBACK
$54.95



View/Hide Left Panel

U.S. Industry

GEORGE W. McKINNEY III

I may be a relatively rare bird here in the sense that I have run three companies. I worked for a large company, Corning Glass Works, where I was in charge of business planning and corporate development; I worked for a major venture capital firm; and I was the first president of American Superconductor, a company that has been deeply involved in intellectual property with the high-temperature superconducting field. I currently spend 80 percent of my time doing venture activities and 80 percent running a company called Environmental Quality Corporation, which is involved in novel developments in the area of source reduction and pollution prevention.

In intellectual property I think there are significant differences between the mental images mentioned earlier that form the historical background, and the realities of the world we are in. I would like to raise five issues. I do not think anybody here is going to run out and cause change to occur, but these are areas in which we have to think about why change is not occurring. In that sense, I disagree with John Armstrong's position (Chapter 8) that we have a good system, it is working well, and we should not mess with it too much.

Let me raise the first issue. We talk about invention and intellectual property, and we think of the inventions of the world, which can be counted in the hundreds, in contrast to the vast majority of developments in intellectual property that are evolutionary.

Let us stop and consider the issue of true inventions. The reason I am concerned about this is that I deal with small companies, universities, national laboratories, and government laboratories, and I believe the majority of what is happening in this country is happening outside the large corporate structure. When we get big inventions, they do not necessarily happen in large companies. As somebody who lived through the early phases of high-temperature superconductivity in 1987, I was surprised to learn that there would not be a basic patent awarded to the Nobel Prize laureates from IBM who, in fact, invented oxide superconductors. No one, to my knowledge, questions that they invented a fundamental concept, but their application fails to meet somebody's definition.

I automatically say that this is a failure of the patent system because whether they would be willing, à la John Preston at MIT, to write an X-Window style (everybody is free to use) license is up to them. The idea that we have a system in which they could not achieve a fundamental patent is appalling.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement