Summertime, The American Dream & Intellectual Property

In this week’s news, CNN Money reported that 6 out of 10 Americans believe the American Dream is out of reach, if not impossible.   See, the article here.  Young adults ages 18 to 34 were reportedly most pessimistic.   Apparently, the majority of people feel the dream, whatever it is, is unachievable because many families now need two income-earners to compete with the prior generation where many families lived on a single income.   Other reasons given for the pessimism included:  savings rates are low, unemployment rates are high, rising college costs outpace inflation, and student loan debt is “exploding”.

Sadly, the article omits discussing what, if anything, might bring the American Dream back within reach.  There is no mention of hard work, dedication, perseverance, increased productivity or anything else the people polled thought would make dreams achievable.

So how did prior generations possibly achieve the American Dream?  Were they more productive?  More frugal?   Perhaps they defined the American Dream differently.  How can we give them or the next generation more hope, encouragement and belief for their futures?

Summertime Productivity – One Bed at a Time!

Summertime in our house means transitioning our elementary and middle school aged children to a new routine of healthy fun and some work.  The daily routine strives for exercise, eating well, some contribution to the family, and doing something creative – not just playing video games or watching TV.  Most evenings, each of our kids is asked “what contributions have you made today?”   The kids’ answers vary greatly, but usually include performing some household chores, reading books, helping someone, creating something (artwork, lego toys, model rockets, etc.).   You get the idea.   Kids’ productivity and creativity needs to be encouraged and rewarded.  Otherwise, natural human tendencies will lead to inactivity and complacency, particularly in the heat of summer.

Last month, our summertime transition was emboldened by a commencement speech given at the University of Texas at Austin by the top Navy SEAL, Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.   An important part of his message was “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”   Of course, my wife and I loved this and played it for the kids.

McRaven explained,

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.  It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

Click here to link to a video and transcript of the speech.

It’s true.  Work, even small tasks, can make people feel more productive and have a better outlook as to their environment and the future.   However, neither adults nor kids will expend energy if they don’t believe they’ll see the benefits of it.

Intellectual Property Rights Promote Productivity and The American Dream

A cornerstone of the U.S. economy is that full-on, head-to-head competition is encouraged and rewarded.   Intellectual property often keeps the playing field level for such heavy competition.  The Global Intellectual Property Center of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (GIPC) refers to the U.S. IP system as the “bread and butter” of our economy with some “40 million American IP-intensive jobs driving 30% of U.S. GDP and 60% of exports”.  The GIPC says the U.S. IP System “…could well serve other economies and systems seeking a slice of the American Dream.”

For many, intellectual property rights are integral to keeping the American Dream alive and within reach notwithstanding such competition.  For example,

  • In April, Michelle Lee, the Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO and former Deputy General Counsel to Google, spoke at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law for a World IP Day event.  See her blog post here.  Motivated “…by the promise of the American Dream“, Lee’s parents immigrated across the Pacific Ocean to Silicon Valley.  Lee’s engineer dad and other dads on her street “…worked for tech companies of all sizes, often founded by just one person who grew their businesses through the power of intellectual property.  Many of them had the experience of creating an invention, patenting it, and using the protection that patent provided to obtain venture capital funding, hire employees, and begin producing and selling new products and services.”
  • Last Fall, the New York Times highlighted Jason Wu, a young fashion designer, in an article entitled “Jason Wu: American Dream”.   Born in Taiwan in 1980, Wu moved to New York at age 18, founded his own company and serves as the women’s wear creative director of Hugo Boss, a multi-billion dollar German luxury fashion company.   He gained fame as the dress designer for Michelle Obama for both presidential inaugural celebrations.   In the article, Wu credits his success in part on understanding how to deal with intellectual property, and stresses that registering his name as a trademark was one of the first and “finest” things he did in business.
  • Mark Zuckerberg of FaceBook fame certainly achieved the American Dream while protecting his IP rights.  His story is chronicled in the movie, “The Social Network,” which is a must see for those who have doubts about the power of intellectual property.
  • The Center for Individual Freedom provides a short video, “Freedom Minute: Intellectual Property and the American Dream,” that highlights rags-to-riches stories of Walt Disney (a “down-on-his-luck cartoonist”), Elvis (a “poor son of Mississippi”), and Bill Gates (a “college dropout”), all of whom were so talented in their respective fields and prospered considerably due in large part to protecting their IP.

The idea that productivity and IP rights go hand-in-hand to realize the American Dream is not new.   In fact, it’s as old as the country’s founding fathers and the American Dream!  See, U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8 (where Congress is empowered “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”).

Like summertime routines for kids or basic Navy SEAL training, businesses should be taking proactive steps to protect and enforce their intellectual property rights.   By doing so, they will not only compete more effectively, but also promote the economy and the progress of science and useful arts, and make the American Dream more attainable perhaps even for those who no longer belief they can reach it.

Michael J. Powell is an intellectual property lawyer and mediator.  With 23 years’ experience, Mr. Powell founded Powell IP Law, LLC in 2013 as a better platform to help clients navigate the complexities and costs of intellectual property in transactions and litigation.  For his work in intellectual property, Mr. Powell has been recognized by Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers In Business, Best Lawyers in America, Georgia Super Lawyers and Georgia Legal Elite for many years.   To learn more or reach Mr. Powell, click