This article was first published in the April 21, 2015 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times. For full article, click here. 


An Illinois company just released a product that could save mechanics’ lives. Midtronics  Inc. has unveiled a device that reduces the risk of electric shock when fixing hybrid cars. Hybrids come with a 400-volt battery that can deliver a shock 33 times more powerful than regular car batteries. Midtronics’ new product allows mechanics to perform diagnostic tests on these batteries safely.


Illinois is home to many such innovative firms. But our state’s position of economic strength isn’t guaranteed. To ensure that Illinois remains a hotbed for innovation — and the jobs and economic growth it fosters — our officials must fight for strong intellectual property protections.


Intellectual property is the linchpin for Illinois’s   economy. By granting inventors a temporary market monopoly over their intellectual handiwork — whether an invention or an original idea — IP rights encourage people and firms to invest time and money trying to come up with the next big thing.


Abbott Laboratories, in the Chicago suburbs, is a great example of IP in action. The pharmaceutical company depends on its more than 500 patents to grow. On average, drug manufacturers spend 10 to 15 years and over a billion dollars to bring a drug from discovery to the marketplace. Without the temporary period of exclusive sales a patent provides, drug makers would have little hope of recouping their investments. Drug research would grind to a halt.


IP sustains more than half of all jobs in Illinois. That’s 8 million jobs — which add about $293 billion to the state economy each year. The average employee at an IP-intensive company in Illinois makes $56,525 a year — 25 percent more than the average private-sector worker.


Those jobs are in every sector of the economy. They’re at Rosemont-based Riddell, Inc., which makes helmets that track and transmit data to coaches on the sidelines to help young football players avoid concussions. They’re at Mount Prospect-based Cummins Allison Corp., which has developed a state-of- the-art machine for rapidly processing checks.


And those jobs are at the firm I run, Simmons  Engineering  Corporation.  We’ve been  producing  industrial  band  saw  blades in the Chicago area since 1946. Companies in industries  from food to aerospace rely on our custom-tailored products. We  export  these  products  to  50  foreign markets. In fact, the federal Commerce Department has recognized Simmons as a leading contributor to U.S. exports — and the American jobs they support.


IP protects our brand integrity while offering our customers the promise of quality that our hard-earned reputation offers. Without dependable IP protections, our position as a major U.S. exporter would be compromised.


Unfortunately, IP is under attack. Consider the ongoing negotiations between the United States and 11 other major economies on a free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Some have argued that pharmaceutical research should only be protected for seven years as opposed to the standard twelve. These critics claim that America’s laws restrict the flow of research data and unnecessarily prevent the introduction of low-cost alternatives.


This thinking is off the mark. If competitors can easily access American firms’ hard-won research and create cheap knock- offs, the financial incentives to create new products will evaporate. Strong IP protections affirm the fundamental  right  of inventors  and creators to bear the fruits of their ideas. These rights recognize the huge costs required to create the breakthrough products that benefit us all.


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