A recent discussion on a major television network business program addressed the purported deficiencies of the U.S. patent system. The commentators and panelists expressed some dislike for patents in general, espousing a "you didn't invent that" philosophy which argues that many inventions only build on prior research, most of it by other inventors, and so patents constitute an unreasonable reward for the inventors’ efforts. The bioscience community is acutely aware that this is only partly true—every inventor builds on the prior work of others; however, improvements in the field can require monumental achievement in the laboratory and in the development process to bring such inventions to the market. This should remind the bioscience community that the business community sometimes needs to remind politicians and the public of the importance and value of patents.
First, here are some data from the U.S. Patent Office. According to a 2012 study, "Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: Industries in Focus," the most IP-intensive industries were directly or indirectly responsible for 27.7 percent of all jobs in the economy. IP-intensive industries directly accounted for 27.1 million American jobs, or 18.8 percent of all employment, in 2010. IP-intensive industries accounted for $5.06 trillion in value added, or 34.8 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Every two jobs in IP-intensive industries support an additional one job elsewhere in the economy. The percentage of process product and process innovations for which patents were considered an effective mechanism for appropriating the returns to innovation was 54.7 percent in medical equipment, and 50.2 percent in pharmaceuticals. From this data, the impact that intellectual property in general and patents in particular have on our economy should be clear.