Jeremy Ben-David
Managing Partner, JMB Davis Ben-David

 

If my memory serves me correctly, somewhere in the mid-90’s I read a few paragraphs of scientific journalism that profoundly affected (or possibly reflected) the way that I view the world of science and technology. It was the editorial introduction to the 150th anniversary issue of Scientific American of 1995.

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I grew up in the 60s and 70s. As a young child, the future that I imagined was one in which everyone flew around with his or her personal jetpack and we consumed tablets for nutrition, rather than food. Also, as far as I recall, the moon was to become something like a tourist destination. And that was easily going to happen by the unthinkably distant turn of the millennium, the year 2000. As it happened, things didn’t exactly turn out the way I dreamt, all those years ago.

So what was it that the Scientific American editor wrote? Quite simply, he said (if I may paraphrase), “we don’t speculate. We report on what was. We report on what is. But we don’t speculate. That way, no one can look back and accuse us of having been wrong.” I don’t think that he was implying that there is anything wrong about being wrong, per se. Rather, I think he meant that, as journalists, their job was to report, and you can’t report on what doesn’t exist.

Parenthetically (and as a case in point), look at poor old Charles Holland Duell, who is alleged to have said “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” The mythical attribution of this ridiculous statement to Mr. Duelle, who was the US Commissioner of Patents 1988-1901, has since been debunked. Nonetheless, despite all the time that has elapsed and the large number of patents that have issued since then, this urban legend remains, as if to show how marvelous we all are; that the human race still continues to develop science and technology, even though it was thought that we couldn’t possible become more advanced than we were in 1901.

Neither honest reporting nor opining does (or should do) much more than reflect what others have done. Inventors, corporations, and people that run them are doers. Not just doers, but dreamers. But, as per the biblical Yaacov (Jacob), they dream with their feet on the ground but heads reaching skywards, towards the heavens.

All of which brings me to the question of next year. Actually, not next year, but the year after that, and even better, 5, 10 or 20 years’ time. In fact, 20 is an excellent period of time to look forward to, as that’s when this year’s crop of patents will expire.

2040 is the year when today’s dreamers, not the speculators, but the chemists, biologists, engineers, and food scientists (to mention but a few), will be able to look back on this year with amazement. “That was an amazing year. This entire new venture started during a pandemic. And just think that I was worried about getting investment. I was worried whether I would find partners, have markets. With the shifting sands of politics: domestic (choose whichever country you want(!)), regional and global, who knew how things would turn out?”

And that’s entirely the point. As patent attorneys, our job is to help our clients anchor their dreams to economic reality. Not to stop them from creating and forging ahead into the blue yonder. No. Not at all. Rather, to help them advance in a way which will give them the leg up that they need while developing their inventions for the betterment of society. We don’t have the privilege of forecasting or dreaming in the way that the real doers, the builders and craftspeople of the world, can do.

We may not be the doers, but we are helping them. And that, as patent professionals, is exactly what we should be doing. Indeed, we need to know that things will start to look up, and sooner rather than later (that’s not a prediction, its just basic, hard-wired human optimism). And when they do, and when the scientists and engineers have succeeded in advancing the world that we inhabit yet further, that’s when we need to be able to look back, not just to this year 2020, but to whenever we started practicing. With the knowledge that we have had a part in entrepreneurial success, simply by doing our jobs in the very best way we know. And that, my fellow practitioners, starts today.

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