Legislation would protect intellectual property rights
SIKESTON -- A bill in the Missouri Senate which would protect intellectual property rights could make this state irresistible for new businesses.
Dr. Ed Masters, a Sikeston physician and inventor who holds several patents, was among those who testified during a hearing March 12 in Jefferson City on Senate Bill 1244.
"We hope it gets passed because it would be a job magnet for Missouri," Masters said. "Missouri, in my opinion, could become known as the 'entrepreneur-friendly' state."
"If we can establish a safe harbor for entrepreneurs and inventors where they feel like they may have some protection for their ideas, they are going to come to Missouri," agreed Dennis Roedemeier, president of the Missouri Research Corporation in Cape Girardeau.
"Most new jobs are created by small businesses," Masters said. "Historically, small businesses are often the vision of a person or persons who come up with a new idea of how do to something and often this is preceded by a patent."
"Intellectual property" is a legal term used to cover a wide range of ideas and products of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; the invention of new or improved products; symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce; and even trade secrets.
While laws protecting tangible property are enforced by the government with tax-funded law enforcement officers and prosecutors and courts, laws relating to intellectual property are only enforced in civil court.
"It's like the 'wild wild west': your gold claim is only as good as your ability to defend it," Masters said.
Having a patent doesn't stop what Masters calls "predator companies" from using that idea and profiting from it while the inventor receives nothing for the idea.
Masters said he experienced this first hand when a huge company infringed on his patent for a safety hypodermic syringe he invented. While the law was in his favor, Masters was advised seeing results in his favor could take millions of dollars in attorney fees.
"Starting a new business is incredibly risky. Most small businesses fail. One of the reasons they fail is almost always the expense and difficulty of starting a new business are underestimated and they end up for all practical purposes being undercapitalized," Masters said. "They are especially not in a position to fight a big patent infringement lawsuit and other companies know this -- they just take the idea and start producing."
SB-1244, which was sponsored by Sen. Frank Barnitz, would change this by putting the Missouri Attorney General in the intellectual property owner's corner.
If approved, this bill would create an entrepreneurial development council consisting of seven board members from business and legal experts in the area of intellectual property, Roedemeier explained.
The council would accept a registration fee from entrepreneurs who wish to receive help from the council.
These fees, along with appropriations, grants and gifts, would go into an entrepreneurial development and intellectual property right protection fund.
"It should not cost the taxpayers a dime," Masters said.
The council would then be able to allocate money from this fund to help with legal actions against those infringing on patents as well as assistance for the development, manufacture and advertisement of new products.
Roedemeier said he was approached by Masters several years ago with an idea for a bill along these lines. When Barnitz asked him last year to review what eventually became SB-1244, Roedemeier was happy to help.
Andy O'Brien, a patent and license attorney, then assisted by gathering feedback on the senator's proposal and drafting a list of recommendations to help guide this legislative effort.
"It is the first step that the state has taken to protect the interests of small entrepreneurs and inventors," Roedemeier said.
Roedemeier and Masters agreed the hearing on the bill last week went well.
"There was not one negative word said during the hearing," Roedemeier said. The bill's supporters are now waiting "to see if it comes out of committee, if it's voted up," he said. Roedemeier said they are hoping it will be added to the Senate's calendar for discussion on the Senate floor.
"This is not a Democrat issue, this is not a Republican issue, this is a Missouri jobs issue," Masters said.