Book Write-Up: Patents and Invention (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly. Phyllis Schlafly Speaks, Volume 4: Patents and Invention. Ed. Ed Martin. Skellig America, 2018.

Phyllis Schlafly had an interest in the patent system. Her father invented and patented the rotary engine. That invention lacked an immediate impact, for World War II was going on, and the military-industrial complex was interested in mass-manufacturing what it knew rather than trying anything innovative. But it came to have a slight impact on automobiles after World War II.

Schlafly argues that the United States has the best system in the world when it comes to patents and inventions. She chronicles the inventions throughout American history and the positive effect that they had. In a 1970 speech to immigrants, she observes that immigrants, too, historically contributed to American inventiveness. For Schlafly, the American system is superior because it is capitalistic: it allows people to keep the fruit of their labors.

Schlafly is concerned about government proposals to “reform” the American patent system. For one, she resists the idea that the American system, through treaty, should reconcile itself with other countries’ system. As noted above, she believes that the American patent system is the best and that other countries would do well to reconcile their patent systems to that of the U.S. Schlafly finds fault with other countries’ system, such as that of Japan, which is highly corporatist, and she argues that other countries have not manifested the creativity and innovative spirit as has the United States.

Second, Schlafly opposes a “first-to-file” rather than a “first-to-invent” system. A “first-to-file” system grants the patent to the first person who files, not to the person who can demonstrate he or she was the first to invent. For Schlafly, a “first-to-file” system privileges well-connected, lawyered-up corporations rather than the small-time inventor working from his garage.

Third, Schlafly opposes proposals to publish rough drafts of proposals on the internet and in other formats, long before the proposal is patented, for that enables other countries (i.e., China) as well as corporations to steal inventors’ ideas.

Schlafly’s fourth concern relates to the time-span before which an invention becomes part of the public domain. She criticizes lawmakers who try to shorten that time-span for inventors, while lengthening it for authors, publishers, and artists. In both cases, they privilege the corporations over the little guy. Shortening the time-span for inventors allows corporations to sell and make money off the invention quickly, leaving the inventors with a mere pittance. Lengthening the time-span for authors, publishers, and artists privileges big publishing, big music, big entertainment, and, in some cases, even the lawmakers themselves (i.e., Senator Orrin Hatch and his Gospel music). Schlafly is critical of lawmakers who try to crack down on people who tape movies for non-commercial use. That leads me to suspect that she opposed the 2011 Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Fifth, Schlafly wants to keep the patent board in the hands of the government rather than making it a board of multinational corporations. That accords with the U.S. Constitution, and it is also fairer than allowing corporations with vested interests to decide who gets patents and who does not.

Another theme that recurs in this book is privacy. Schlafly is critical of measures to expose people’s medical records to government and corporations. She alleges that the Clinton health care plan would have done this, and she notes legislation, such as Kennedy-Kassenbaum (HIPAA), which she believes does so.

The book has its ironies. Schlafly is very pro-immigrant in this book, and she opposes privatizing the patent system, when conservatives tend to support privatizing government functions. Conservative opposition to corporatism, however, is not surprising, for, in a truly free market, the government does not privilege well-connected corporations.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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