Patent ups and downs, and finding skilled workers
Readers seem split on the U.S. Patent Office. They know it's important for letting inventors cash in on their ingenuity, but they also think some inventions that have been patented really doesn't deserve the honor. And one engineeer second-guessed his decision to work in the private sector.
One more engineering movie
I may be a bit late in responding to the best engineering movies, but one movie that should be included has to be “The World’s Fastest Indian.” It’s a classic tale of a guy in New Zealand with nothing more than garage-shop tools who builds a motorcycle (including the engine castings) that breaks 200 mph at Bonneville. Plus, he was a self-taught engineer to boot.
Praise and blame for the patent system
Your editorial is interesting and informative, however there is a flip side (“R&D doesn’t mean innovation,” Oct. 6). From a corporate perspective, patents can and are used as marketing tools and legal weapons. However, at the other end of the spectrum, the patent system is also a doorway for the “little guy” to take a chance and develop a product without being wiped out by major power players in industry.
My own tale of getting a patent is one of 10 years of hard work, so far. And any funds I could raise, I put into R&D for the opportunity to bring a product to market that is technologically ahead of the current offerings in an industry dominated by a pair of behemoths. These companies are ruthless in their market dominance. Without the patent system, small entities and individuals such as myself have no outlet for their inventiveness. So, although the big players may misuse the system, grass-roots innovation would certainly stagnate under the weight of corporate power and market domination without it.
Having obtained two patents in the U. S. over the past 10 years, it is my opinion that the patent office in the U. S., as well as those in other countries, have been responsible for a wave of “bad” patent releases. I do not know exactly why this has happened, but it seems many inventors, both corporate and individuals, have gotten patents on weak inventions or have cut corners in the revision process to generate tons of patent releases with low-quality content or even material that should have never been patented.
I have heard this directly from my patent agent, from other inventors, and from those involved with patents. So now we’re stuck with a lot of patents issued for stuff that, when anyone looks at it, says: “No way, this cannot be patented,“ But it is.
So the rightful owners of these half-baked patents will use the full extent of the law to protect their intellectual property, even if they kill streams of innovation in the process, along with manufacturing jobs, a host of careers, and a long list of suppliers.
We need business people, politicians, and inventors to demand that the patent system be made fair and workable and a powerful driver of technology and business once again. Just recently there have been announcements about tightening the patent rules and supervision. This is a good start.
The problem with eliminating patents is that there is a class of start-up businesses focused on making totally new technologies that only makes business sense if there are patents.
If there’s no way to prevent people (or corporations) from stealing your technology, then you must either be the only one using that product, keep the details a trade secret, or give up, because any time you explain it to a competent manufacturer, its managers will just say: “Oh, we can do that,” and you’re out of business.
Government versus private-sector jobs
After seeing so many ups and downs in the private sector, while at the same time witnessing my friends who opted to work for the government (city, state or federal) enjoy so much stability, I can’t help but wonder if I made the right choice going to the private sector.
And it‘s not just the stability. Government engineers also enjoy very respectable wages, raises, retirement pensions, and vacations. It may not be as glorified a position as in the private industry, but in this day and age, what would one rather have: the gold or the glory?
Overall, however, the U. S. treats engineers quite well, though Europe may be slightly better when it comes to compensating engineers. But could this eventually make our products too expensive to be competitive in price? Meanwhile, China and India have a definite edge in that they have a large, well-educated population used to low wages and benefits. They can make the cheap widgets the world is hungry for.
Syed M. Kadri
Where are our skilled workers?
To answer the question your blog asks, (“Why does the U. S. lack skilled workers?,” Oct 13, From Shop Floor to Software): Generations of American children have been deprived of the commonsense curriculum that comes with using your hands. Now it is up to industry, or what remains of it, to teach them what they did not learn. But industry doesn’t know what to do. They stopped serious career training long ago.
The popular narrative must change to embrace the acceptance of using one’s hands to create things. The people who want to have gainful employment, doing something useful and valuable, will have to be convinced that carving a horse or making a mahogany lamp is a learning experience. Shop class was not carpentry prep; it was about common sense, critical thinking, making intelligent decisions, and using knowledge to create skill.
Bring back shop class if you want a motivated, sharp, new generation of technical people.
The problem I am seeing is that companies do not want to put time into training people. I have a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue and feel I am not being given the chance to gain experience. I have asked employers. “How do you get experience if you do not want to give someone a chance?” This question then gets dodged. Employers are also quick to identify job applicants as the problem and constantly complain that they cannot find skilled people.
But you are right in that the schools have dumbed down the math and sciences. This problem must be addressed. People are closing their eyes to a situation they do not want to acknowledge. It will not get better on its own. Companies are going to have to put time into people whether by their own choice or by government force. If a person meets the educational requirements of the job, he or she should be given a chance to gain experience. I am tired of hearing employers cry that they can’t find skilled people. The employers are the problem and they have the solutions.