first imageIndustrial patent hoarding has constipated the American economy.  For example, the Sterling engine runs on temperature differences and is five times more efficient than the gasoline combustion engine, is non-polluting, and it’s cheap!  Great!  Let’s manufacture cars with Sterling engines!

At this point, corporate lawyers tap us on the shoulder and explain, “Sorry, the auto industry owns that patent.  It is patent infringement to make a Sterling engine for production. You can make one only for yourself.”

Thanks to the practice of powerful industries remaining powerful and dominant forces by grabbing patent rights to inventions that threaten their status quo power, our most brilliant inventors are rendered impotent, unmarketable, and nullified in their ability to change and even save the world. To more clearly realize the impact of this legal policy to hoard patents, let’s slide back to where we see a time graph of the American marketplace.  Up to the time when the oil companies dominated transportation, America was famous for its inventors, its innovating abilities.  We led the world in new ideas.  But the oil industry became tied into the automotive industry in a sinister way.  Henry Ford had designed his new automobile to run on alcohol.  When tested, alcohol as a fuel was found to burn so efficiently that the intake of air proved to be dirtier than the exhaust! The revelation was that using alcohol as a fuel would clean the air pollution created by other industries. I repeat, running automobiles on alcohol was a system of purifying our air, because that is what it did, and would still do if used today.

At the same time, the oil industry had a problem.  All of the things they made left a nasty by-product that was dirty, but flammable. What should they do with this pesky gasoline waste product?  They got the idea to use it as a fuel for automobiles.  The problem was, people preferred alcohol. Alcohol was better all the way around, and could be made in one’s backyard with corn stalks and a still.

No problem for the oil industry. All they needed to do was turn people against the use of alcohol.  It was then that one of the most powerful forces in the economy, Rockefeller, donated four million dollars to the ladies who wanted to stop the use of alcohol for moral reasons, the Women’s Christian Suffrage Society. Interesting, how industry always uses people’s sense of morality, religion and love of country to manipulate them into the service of corporate profit increase.  As the automobile began to take on its immense popularity, prohibition seized America.  It became a crime to make any form of alcohol.  Stills were smashed by the FBI, even though they used to fuel farm equipment.  Gasoline, that dirty accidental by-product, soared to the top of the market as the automotive fuel.  David Blume, author of Cars Can Be A Gas, the alcohol for cars king, is the source of this information, and I sincerely thank him.

With this level of strong-hold stopping people from utilizing inventions that are bought up by industries that are threatened by their production, we see that America has lost its lead in the innovation field as a result.  We can innovate only in the digital realm, but not in the physical world of devices and new forms of transportation.  There are batteries that would get us 1,000 miles on a charge, but whose patents are owned by gasoline-related industries.  How can we break the dam and let innovation flow in America once more?

By ending this tie-off created by patent hoarding, we would see a gush of new markets opening in America. This would mean that anyone capable could start making things that are now illegal to make. This would profoundly energize the economy. But how can this be done when it is patent infringement to mass-produce hoarded inventions?

I have two suggestions.  One solution is obvious:  Why not legislate to create a law that states that any patent right that is purchased and not manufactured at a reasonable price within three years automatically goes into public domain retroactively, and royalty rights are transferred back to the original inventor. This would stop powerful corporations from buying patent rights to keep them out of the marketplace. This, however, would take a great deal of pressure on legislators who are, let us say, heavily influenced by the industries that they would be legislating against.

The second way, and more feasible, that is to say, in the hands of the people and not the legislators,   to re-excite the American market is this.  Since it is illegal to mass produce or manufacture, for example, a Sterling engine, or a car that runs with a Sterling engine that requires only a heat differential to operate, we can legally make one for our own use.  How can this work? By shifting from mass production as we know it, to Education Houses. What is an Education House?  It would be a factory space for almost-completed Sterling engines, that install into waiting cars, with long tables set up and work areas, that people would pay to attend. In this school, there would be an educator who explained how the engine works, and how to complete the assembly for oneself alone.  That individual might take a day to complete the assembly and drive his or her car off the line and into the streets.  The tuition of the school, which teaches people how to make their own Sterling Engine Car, would have paid for the car.  Assembling the Sterling Auto almost, but not quite, to completion does not violate the patent rights. No one working in such a school has actually made a Sterling engine en masse, or at all. It’s just a bunch of disassembled parts on a table, albeit a numbered table with instructions on it for how any individual who is so inclined might piece these parts together.

If such Education Houses spring up across America, people could simply make patent searches, no matter who is hoarding them, and set up a royalty payment to the original inventor if alive, so that those who do the innovation are rewarded and not further robbed of their royalty rights. This will not only encourage inventors to continue inventing, but would create hundreds, thousands of jobs in every city, and offer back to the American public all of the illegal-to-manufacture inventions that will allow us to choose new ideas to save our air and our planet, as well as our economy.

If you consider this system to be cheating corporations, I answer by saying that patent hoarding for the sake of dominating the market in their favor is not only cheating us, it is cowardly and vulgar, as they are not competing in the marketplace fairly,  but it is a crime against humanity to sit on less polluting,  more efficient inventions for the sake of greed.  Such schools can give us all back the world of new ideas so that we may try to catch up with the rest of the world that has been encouraging real growth all along. American ingenuity cannot be sat on by corporate powers without crushing the economy. The result of this patent-right hoarding is that American ingenuity and the economy have become pot-bound, growing round and round without moving forward in time and creating new possibilities.  We are being left far behind in innovation compared to the rest of the world, while we are told constantly how far ahead of the world we are. We are not far ahead. We are far behind. Such a system of education and teaching people to make their own is a way of bringing innovation and new possibilities back to America and the American economy.

My own father, Ross J. Drago, an artist and an inventor, had to sign all of his inventions over to the aerospace corporation he worked for. He never received a dime of royalty for any of his numerous inventions, even though many of them had no relationship to the aerospace industry.  In his later years, when he was deeply into Alzheimer’s disease, my sisters and I visited him in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients. It was a new building, six stories high.  He sat before a great window, in his own silent world, not even recognizing us as his children. It was then that my sister sucked in her breath and exclaimed in shock, “My God, Dad invented those windows!”

Indeed he had. The building was built with his double-paned windows that had thin red venetian blinds between the two panes of glass that were controlled by large knobs on the window sill. He invented them so that my mother, who had hay fever and asthma, wouldn’t have to dust venetian blinds. The aerospace corporation he had spent his life working for as an electronics draftsman, had never told him that they manufactured his invention and marketed it.  This is the other side of patent hoarding, that corporations take the power to own the patent rights of employees, even though the patent has nothing whatsoever to do with their industry. This is greed, pure and simple. Like humans, who kill not for food but for sport, corporations take patent rights for sport, and not even to control the market.  I believe that patent rights and royalties should not be allowed to be kept for more than three years before reverting to public domain if they are not manufactured and royalties shared with the inventor, as well as being offered at a reasonable price for the market, and that inventions that are not related directly to that industry be made out of bounds from corporate greed.

Make our American inventors and innovators heroes once again, instead of corporate enemies to be bought up and buried if that invention scares them as competition.  Let creative forces in America once again flow, and the economy will burst forth with it. Make patent searches and start Education Houses to allow people to make for themselves those dream machines that will save us from the lemming cliff we are all driving toward in gasoline combustion engine cars. There is no real relationship between cars and gasoline engines. Our auto industry can thrive building Sterling engine cars, alcohol/electric hybrids, electric cars, and other innovations which are being kept in solitary confinement in the basements of gasoline-related industries.  This will re-ignite the American economy and create exponential growth for all of us as it saves our world.

Article and Cover Painting by Ross G. Drago

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