The chief lobbyist for inventors believes that their lot has improved since the 1970s but that some problems remain, including higher government fees and more instances of patent infringement and trademark counterfeiting.
Herbert C. Wamsley, executive director of Washington-based Intellectual Property Owners Inc., also discussed in an interview how his organization operates, what legislation it is supporting, and why some companies generate more patents than others.
Intellectual Property Owners Inc. was started in 1972 by a group of U.S. companies that own a large number of patents. They "believed that an organization was needed to represent patent owners and to publicize the value of the patent system as a mechanism for providing incentives for innovation and invention," Wamsley said.
Large companies, universities, small businesses or individuals can be members of IPO. Dues range from $150 a year for individuals up to $7,500 for the largest corporate members. These are important because more than 90 percent of the IPO's revenue comes from dues, Wamsley said.
"The main things we do are public relations and government relations -- lobbying -- on behalf of the patent system," he explained. IPO also receives questions from inventors, such as how to obtain a patent, how to get a patent attorney and how to sell an idea to a company. The association tries "to provide a limited amount of information by telephone," often referring callers to the Patent and Trademark Office, Wamsley said. IPO is preparing a brochure on "the ABCs of intellectual property" to help answer such questions, he added.
He and IPO President Donald W. Banner, a former U.S. commissioner of patents and trademarks, do most of the IPO lobbying, sometimes joining forces with member companies' Washington lobbyists. IPO board members also lobby on IPO's behalf, Wamsley said.
Right now, IPO is supporting several pieces of legislation designed to strengthen the patent system, including one that seeks to close what sponsors perceive as a loophole in protection for holders of process patents -- patents covering how something is produced, rather than what is produced.
A second bill IPO supports seeks to strengthen remedies available to patent holders through the International Trade Commission.
A third bill backed by the inventors organization has been passed by the House and is pending in the Senate.
This measure not only would fund the Patent and Trademark Office for the next three years at a higher level than currently, but also would limit fees that the office could charge for activities such as filing patent applications and receiving patents to the same percentage as future increases in the consumer price index.
"We feel that the levels of user fees have been raised to the point where they would discourage the use of the patent system, particularly by small businesses and individual inventors," Wamsley said. On average, Patent and Trademark Office fees have quadrupled for large companies and doubled for individuals and small businesses since 1980, he added.
According to Wamsley, the administration indicated earlier this year that it wants to pay for the computerization of the Patent and Trademark Office's search files -- at an estimated cost of $700 million through the year 2000 -- by increasing user fees and and by charging for using the patent library.
Asked what he believes is the most amazing patent he has dealt with, Wamsley cited last year's winner and runners-up for IPO's Inventor of the Year competition: Jewell L. Osterholm of Thomas Jefferson University, the winner, for a system for treating stroke victims; Ronald L. Kirk, for an electronic system for storing and calling up three-dimensional images; and Paul A. Porasik, for a new process for making detergents.
IPO has begun its search for 1985's Inventor of the Year. Eligible are inventions patented or first made commercially available during the year. A letter describing the invention, a one-page biography of the inventor, and -- if available -- pictures or drawings must be received by 5 p.m. Feb. 15 at IPO headquarters, Suite 850, 1255 23rd St. NW, Washington D.C. 20037.