Our 75th Anniversary Issue Special Report, "The Innovation Economy," generated many thoughtful letters. To those who wrote "Bravo," we say thanks. Other letters offered more ideas for changing the world.
Nontechnological innovations contribute as much to productivity and economic growth as technological innovations. Yet our innovation policy fails to recognize that fact. Yes, we have research-and-development and science-and-technology policies but not innovation policies. Nor do we have any direct measures of innovation activity. To start, we need a true innovation survey, similar to what the European Union and the Australians are trying to do. There are other areas where we can craft a true innovation policy, ranging from improving how we teach creativity to incentives to increase worker input into the innovation process.
Kenan Patrick Jarboe, President
Re "Are copyright wars chilling innovation?": The primary ingredients for successful patent reform are threefold: First, more qualified people for software, biotechnology, and business-method patent examination are required to reduce the number of wrongful patents approved. Second, having a public review period after granting the patent -- as opposed to before granting the patent, as some have proposed -- would allow others to cite prior art yet allow the patent-application process to happen in secret. Third, patent law must be reformed to require holders to enforce their patents or risk losing them. Currently companies exist whose sole mission is to lie in wait for the widespread adoption of a technology infringing on one of their older patents and then sue the companies with the most cash.
Government-funded research is vital to our country. Since the money comes from taxpayers, I think it's time the U.S. Treasury acted like a venture capitalist. If something is invented using taxpayers' money, the Treasury should get a royalty for the life of the product. A system like that certainly would help alleviate part of the deficit and may even help us avoid a tax increase in the future.
Today's world is surging with change and innovation. Those who can cope with it will thrive, and those who cannot will fail. Your "75 years of covers" illustrates this graphically, in particular the "Act of War" cover on the World Trade Center attack and your cover on the '73 oil embargo. While the rest of the world was changing, and encouraging change, the Middle East was not. But with the seeds of liberalism now taking root in the Middle East, there are signs of hope that the great centers of learning that once existed there will rise again. It's easy to visualize a BusinessWeek cover featuring the Middle East as an Innovation Hot Spot.
Michigan City, Ind.
Despite significant advances over the years, the disabled population continues to grow -- 56 million people in the U.S. alone ("Aging is becoming so yesterday."). Medical advances keep alive people who would not have survived certain injuries and illnesses in earlier times, and life expectancies are longer. Producing devices that bring people with disabilities into the economic mainstream will most assuredly generate income for companies smart enough to tap into this market sector. Americans with a disability have roughly $180 billion in disposable income.
Editor's note: The writer is a former board member of American Association of People with Disabilities and has a daughter who is deaf.
I could not escape the irony of reading through your Oct. 4 cover story "Fuzzy numbers" and then receiving the Oct. 11 issue on "The Innovation Economy," which contains the real answer to accounting scandals and an environment that encourages unscrupulous behavior. The only creativity is in how to cut costs and make the quarter's numbers. As a nation we face losing our leadership position in innovation because these practices all but extinguish the spirit of innovation in an enterprise. We seem to be on the cusp of a paradigm shift: the old paradigm, with its emphasis on the short term, and a new one with a focus on wealth creation. But it won't happen unless we reward longer-term efforts.
Philip E. Howe
Lehigh Valley, Pa.
BusinessWeek got it wrong when it included SBC Communications Inc. (SBC) in "Pumped-up pension plays? (Finance, Oct. 25) about companies that are allegedly "pumping up" their earnings by manipulating retiree cost and investment-return forecasts. Just the opposite happened at SBC: Changes in pension accounting assumptions last year hurt rather than helped our bottom line, taking a $693 million bite out of 2003 net earnings. Our conservative accounting approach is reasonable and appropriate.
Richard G. Lindner
Chief Financial Officer
SBC Communications Inc.
Editor's note: SBC was cited as an example of how small changes in pension accounting assumptions can dramatically affect reported earnings. The story pointed out that in SBC's case, the adjustments actually lowered earnings in 2003. We did not intend to imply that the company's earnings were "pumped up" or being questioned by the SEC.