With respect to intellectual property, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that it is probably the most active and growing area of law that exists today. People are keenly aware of the importance of intellectual property: to use a phrase from a high-level Japanese commission, this is the “knowledge era.” An article in the Harvard Business Review pointed out that for generations, the wealthiest person in the world was associated with oil. Now the wealthiest person in the world is a knowledge worker, and you’ve seen him on television, at depositions, and in other places. It’s just a sign of the times. So the good news is that people really appreciate intellectual property in all its forms, including patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyrights, which protect not only literary and artistic works, but also computer software. Trademarks, of course, ensure orderly commercial development and consumer protection. When you walk into a mall or a supermarket, you really do depend on trademarks to protect yourself and to assure that you will get quality in what you buy. In the area of trade secrets, there recently has been a major development in federal law -- the Economic Espionage Act -- that, for the first time, imposes very heavy criminal penalties for trade secret theft in the United States. In all of its forms, intellectual property is respected and at the cutting edge of human progress.

The bad news, as far as the patent system goes, is that the current system is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. I don’t mean that as a criticism of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for we have the most highly-skilled, dedicated patent examiners in the world. Moreover, the patent bar has never been better able to serve its clients. There is, however, an inherent flaw in the current system. It is totally nationalistic: you have to get a U.S. patent, then you have to get a separate Canadian patent, then a separate Mexican patent, and so on. There is no such thing as a North American patent, so there is a large amount of redundancy which, in my opinion, must and will be eliminated as we move forward.

A year ago, I was asked to give a briefing on what I envisioned the world patent system to be in the future. I have chosen to call that system the World Patent System Circa 20XX, A.D. My thoughts have been published in Idea and in the Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society. With the help of a very dedicated and clever student of mine at the George Washington University Law School, I have broken down the World Patent System article into four major subjects: (1) patent treaties, (2) regional patent systems that exist today, (3) the essential characteristics of a world patent system, and (4) leadership toward that world patent system.