The Partnership for American Innovation (PAI) began as a club for 800-lb. gorillas. But now it has found room at the table for a couple of smaller primates.
PAI was founded by DuPont, Apple, Ford, GE, IBM, Microsoft and Pfizer, seven of the largest IP-driven companies in the United States, with a mission to spread the gospel of patents and innovation. Since its creation, the group has shouted from the rooftops that the U.S. patent system increases innovation and drives the economy for large and small businesses alike.
And now the group is ready to welcome some members from that second category. Those companies are Second Sight, a medical device manufacturer that makes a retinal prosthesis to provide sight to the blind, and ManyWorlds, a company that makes machine-learning software.
“We are excited about Second Sight and ManyWorlds lending their points of view to PAI,” says David Kappos, former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and senior adviser of PAI. “They’ll bring their experiences to the group to help educate the public and other stakeholders on the value of patents for all types and sizes of businesses.”
Kappos was instrumental in bringing both of these companies into the fold at PAI. “Our founder, Dr. Robert Greenberg, met Dave Kappos and got to know him. Kappos gave Greenberg a call, and we looked at what PAI stood for and found it to be a good fit,” says Scott Dunbar, senior patent counsel at Second Sight.
As a small company, ManyWorlds did not have a huge budget to get involved in various groups, but it, too saw a good fit in PAI. “We were looking at investing in and protecting what we are doing in terms of intellectual property. We were looking for opportunities and that’s when we were introduced to Kappos,” explains Naomi Moneypenny, chief technical officer at ManyWorlds.
“For the PAI, it was simple,” says Kappos. “In both cases, these are highly innovative companies doing really important things based on a strong IP system. Their views and beliefs are consistent with other companies in the PAI and they have an enviable innovation track record.”
There’s little doubt that each company relies heavily on intellectual property – especially patents. According to Dunbar, Second Sight holds nearly 300 patents for software, packaging, electrodes and other technology that makes its device work. And it’s a good thing Second Sight has all those patents, as it needs to be able to protect its investments. “It’s taken over 15 years and over $100 million to develop our visual prosthesis. When we started out, success was not assured and our mission was widely thought to be impossible. Now competitors are popping up, and we could not raise the money or protect our investment without patents,” says Dunbar.
ManyWorlds also sees great value in patents. The company has 30 software patents and believes that a strong patent system in the U.S. has been a critical element driving investment in the software space. “As a software company, we have the ability to have a long-term research and development program. Machine learning takes a lot of investment, and 20 percent of our revenue goes back into R&D. Patents are critically important for investing in breakthrough improvements and competing with large businesses. If we did not have the incentive of a strong patent system, we might not invest so much in research,” Moneypenny says.
At first blush, ManyWorlds and Second Sight might not seem to fit in with the big boys, the DuPonts and the Microsofts of the world, but Kappos says that it’s always been the intention of the PAI to bring in companies of all sizes. “Our objective is to have a broad range of members,” he says. “We have a desire to continue to be a cross-sector, cross-business model organization, diverse in every way, including with respect to the size of companies involved. The PAI wants to be able to speak with a voice representing diversity of innovation. We have the desire to have great companies that have a common viewpoint.”
With such large companies sitting at the table, one might imagine that the voices of the smaller companies could get drowned out, but both Dunbar and Moneypenny state that this has not been the case. Dunbar cites weekly calls where everyone has an equal voice, and Moneypenny notes that the megacorporations involved in PAI all grew from entrepreneurial seeds, and she sees that attitude reflected in their current priorities.
To Kappos, ManyWorlds and Second Sight are a great fit for PAI, an organization which acknowledges that small businesses are a driver to the U.S. economy, and high-quality patents are essential tools needed to drive innovation in those smaller companies. The message is clear, he says: “America needs to protect IP, support small businesses, job growth, business creation and competitiveness for our country. It’s not just a big or small company issue.”