I'm confused regarding your editorial extolling how healthy our manufacturing industry is (May 2007). Minnesota has lost 5,500 manufacturing jobs over the past year and the Ford Ranger plant here is expected to close in a year or so. Is Minnesota much worse off than other states? For years we have stayed ahead of the pack. I think this is a case of choosing the numbers to build a case in one's favor.

Some of us feel that America needs to rethink the widespread policy of employers claiming most employee inventions, but without any obligation to use those inventions. I have found that this missing obligation gives the employer awesome power to control (mostly suppress) employee creativity — a very critical issue!

Over my engineering career, I have had several cases in which my employer claimed my inventions but refused to use or return them. I consider those cases to be grand larceny for aborting potentially valuable intellectual property and denying me my Constitutional rights' access to the US Patent and Trademark Office (Art. 1, Sec. 8). I am sure this is happening all across America, stunting a healthy economy and crippling our ability to compete better in global markets.

We should never expect to compete with unskilled production labor rates, but we should be given more opportunities to compete with creativity — our most valuable asset. Current policy works against America competing with ingenuity. Let me explain.

Our major companies have their products made overseas for lower production casts. After a few production runs, these foreign firms slide into design improvements and shortly thereafter America loses an entire industry. I labored in the middle of transferring the office copier industry to Japan; my associate got a promotion for lowering production costs by transferring that industry to Japan! My employer introduced both the first dry office copier as well as the first color copier. Today, I doubt if any Americans are involved in copier design and development.

In just one case where an employer released an unwanted invention, that unselfish “billion-dollar signature” spawned a huge $50 billion entirely new xerographic industry creating 500,000 jobs! (WSJ May 23, 1989)

My employer was one of the 20 major American firms which rejected the offer to develop and produce that fantastic invention; had I invented it, most likely my employer would have quietly aborted it and legally kept it off the market.

To combat this devastating trend, we propose requiring employers to “use or return” employee inventions. With “use or return” rules in effect, we could expect the following no-cost, permanent benefits:

  • Employers would develop more employee-submitted inventions (for fear of losing title to them from inaction).

  • Employees would submit more inventions (knowing that the employer could no longer block them indefinitely).

  • Employees would regain most of their creative freedom and the rights to own intellectual property (but only after the employer has rejected or abandoned their inventions).

  • The above factors promise to combine geometrically to “snowball” new inventions, products, businesses, jobs, and tax revenue.

  • These new inventions promise to replace many of the high-paying design, development, tooling, and manufacturing jobs lost to offshore competitors because new products seldom demand the high production volumes needed for profitable offshore trade. Additionally we could retain the leading edge in new industries by not having offshore firms produce the first lots.

The above initiative would never cost the taxpayer one additional dollar.

We hope that you might spread this “use or return” initiative among your readers as a no-cost method of vastly improving America's manufacturing industry.