Lingle shouldn't veto 'ingenuity' legislation
THIS WEEK will mark two significant events in the history of the independent American inventor, and Hawaii is the epicenter of both.
First, tomorrow will mark the eighth anniversary of a politically bold action taken by Hawaii's then-Gov. Ben Cayetano that engendered considerable good will among American inventors -- an action that many of our nation's most prominent innovators remember with gratitude to this day.
On July 9, 1999, Cayetano wrote to all 49 of his fellow governors asking them to join him in opposing the misleadingly titled "American Inventors Protection Act because the bill would have weakened "the property rights of independent American inventors by significantly undermining the patent protection so important to encouraging innovation." In taking this action, Cayetano became one of the highest-ranking elected officials since President Lincoln (who was an inventor himself) to strongly advocate for the patent rights of independent inventors. He received support across the political spectrum from progressive pioneers such as Congresswoman Patsy Mink (who was one of the most articulate defenders of inventors' rights in Congress) to conservative activists such as Phyllis Schlafly (who still displays a copy of Cayetano's letter on her Web site).
The second significant event will take place Tuesday, when it appears likely that Hawaii's Legislature will override Gov. Linda Lingle's probable veto of a bill that is, in the view of many prominent inventors, one of the first innovative economic development policy initiatives to emerge in the United States in many decades: the Hawaii Ingenuity Company charter.
ON JUNE 21, the inventors of the MRI, pacemaker, liquid crystal display (LCD) and other breakthrough innovations wrote to Lingle asking her to sign the Ingenuity Company bill into law. In their letter they pointed out that "by chartering the Ingenuity Company, with its unique strategy for empowering inventors, funding innovative public education as well as creating and retaining good jobs, Hawaii will be taking a critically important step toward building an innovative economy."
Four days later, Lingle released her list of the 33 bills she was considering vetoing. The Ingenuity Company charter was on the list.
Why would Lingle ignore the considered views of inventors whose innovations have led to the development of significant new industries, created of tens of thousands of jobs and generated billions of dollars in new wealth? To put this in perspective, the annual revenue generated by industries resulting from the invention of MRI alone is greater than the state of Hawaii's entire budget. With so much at stake, why is the Lingle administration squandering the good will that the state has built up in the national inventor community?
When Lingle was first elected governor, she proclaimed in her inaugural address that Hawaii was "open for business" and that "the welcome mat is out to anyone willing to support our efforts to strengthen and diversify Hawaii's economy." Why then would she ignore an offer from the Professional Inventors Alliance to set up a conference call between nationally prominent inventors and her administration to discuss the merits of the Ingenuity Company bill? This offer was hand-delivered to Lingle in mid-April and, to date, no response of any kind has been received.
WHEN Cayetano received a similar offer from inventors, he made available top officials from his administration and the University of Hawaii for a day-long brainstorming session on how Hawaii could help to foster innovation by offering greater protection for the intellectual property of inventors. When inventors needed someone in their corner during a contentious political battle in Congress, Cayetano was there -- thus building valuable good will among the national inventor community. By contrast, despite her slick public relations focus on building an "innovation economy," Lingle has chosen to snub some of our nation's greatest living innovators.
I don't claim to have any special knowledge of Hawaii politics. I have, however, had the frustrating experience of attempting to work with the Lingle administration for more than a year. I also have had the privilege of working with some of our nation's top inventors and innovators for more than a decade. Based on my experience, I'd like to offer an explanation for Lingle's puzzling position on the Ingenuity Company charter.
BECAUSE the idea was not developed by her administration, I believe that Lingle's opposition to the Ingenuity Company bill results from an extreme case of the "not invented here syndrome." The fact that the primary creators of the bill are Hawaii Democrats seems to have further clouded the governor's ability to recognize the value of this legislation to both Hawaii and the nation. Ideally, the governor will reconsider her position regarding this bill. But realistically, the best hope for an innovation economy is that Hawaii's legislators will continue to show political courage and foresight and will override the governor's veto.
Why Lingle might say no to Ingenuity bill
The following is Gov. Linda Lingle's stated reason for possibly vetoing House Bill 1670 (for the complete list of her intended vetoes, see www.hawaii.gov/gov).
"This bill creates the Hawaii Ingenuity Company, a private for-profit, non-stock, limited liability company within Hawaii statutes that would have no attachment with any state department, not be subject to Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs oversight, and open the state to potential legal challenges. Because this bill exempts this corporation from DCCA oversight, while other limited liability corporations are subject to state requirements, this bill may result in a challenge under the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Because this bill embeds a private corporation within state law, the bill could make the state legally liable for the acts of a private firm. Additionally, this bill appropriates $30,000 in general funds to capitalize the corporation. This appropriation of public funds to a private entity could violate Article VII, Section 4 of the state Constitution."
Ronald J. Riley is an independent inventor and president of the Professional Inventors Alliance, a national organization dedicated to providing inventors with a voice in public policy.