By Travis H. Brown
As Americans, we have so much to be thankful for when it comes to the risks that our Founding Fathers took to form the United States government. Perhaps my favorite leader from this period is Thomas Jefferson of Monticello. When someone questions the value that any one person may have time to contribute, you have to step back and realize just how much legislators like Jefferson were able to accomplish.
In Missouri, our land grant university system in Columbia was modeled after his University of Virginia layouts, at a time when the City of Jefferson opted for the state prison over forming a school of learning west of the Mississippi River. Without Jefferson, the Lewis & Clark expedition may never have passed through the Show Me State, or led to an informed buy of the Louisiana Purchase (I am an interested buyer in antique colonial French maps that show our land as “vast pays inconnue” if you have any such antiquities).
While there are many inventions or social innovations given by Jefferson, perhaps one of the least understood contributions to our United States Constitution at the time would have been Article II, Section 8, founding the makings of our patent system:
“Clause 8: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”
Somehow, it seems that our founders knew clearly that individuals must be granted some return for their unique risks to development advancements in science and art, at least for a limited time. The resulting legacy has helped create American ingenuity through the rule of law, and now the United States Patent & Trademark Office (PTO).
Thanks to this system, we can appreciate such famous Missourians as inventor and aviator William Powell Lear, born in Hannibal, MO, who once said:
“There are two kinds of inventors. There is the inventor who just likes to be clever and come up with a new idea. And there is the inventor who realizes a need and tries to fulfill it. I have spent my whole life discovering needs and then finding ways to fulfill them.”
I believe that Thomas Jefferson knew well that if all citizens had the same promise to work on fulfilling some kind of societal needs in higher risk areas, the productivity of our industries would flourish. This had to have been a bold alternative approach to government institutions making such rules across Europe.
At various times since this constitution, we have seen even our administrators of such policies demonstrate how important this freedom to invent really is. However, no one said that such inventions should be easy. In my case, it took nearly five years to complete our patent process for legislative information parsing.
If you have a chance to educate a young person about our sciences, please take a moment to explain how inventors can contribute to society using the pursuit of patents. Perhaps teaching a sense of why good works matter could help a future Jeffersonian learn that “there’s an app for them.”