Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Legislation on Superconductivity Competitiveness

 

February 23, 1988

 

To the Congress of the United States:

 

I am pleased to transmit today for your immediate consideration and passage the ``Superconductivity Competitiveness Act of 1988.'' This legislation is needed to help translate U.S. leadership in science into leadership in international commerce.

 

Scientific advances in superconductivity have taken place at a remarkable pace recently. In the estimation of one noted physicist, in the past year we have made 200 years worth of progress. As additional breakthroughs occur, the effect on our standard of living -- indeed, our way of life -- could be dramatic and unprecedented, in areas as diverse as transportation, energy, health care, computers, and communication.

 

By funding basic research, the Federal government has played a key role in these scientific breakthroughs. In Fiscal Year 1987, the Federal government spent about $55 million in superconductivity research. In Fiscal Year 1988, the Federal government will spend significantly more -- increasing the annual spending to more than $100 million. Ultimately, however, our success in superconductivity will depend on the private sector, which will make the critical decisions on how much capital, time, and effort to invest in commercializing superconductivity.

 

On July 28, 1987, I announced an 11-point superconductivity initiative designed to help the private sector in its efforts to commercialize superconductivity. This initiative has these three objectives:

 

To promote greater cooperation among the Federal government, academia, and American industry in the basic and enabling research that is necessary to continue to achieve superconductivity breakthroughs;

 

To enable the U.S. private sector to convert scientific advances into new and improved products and processes more rapidly; and

 

To better protect the intellectual property rights of scientists, engineers, and other professionals working in superconductivity.

 

The Superconductivity Competitiveness Act of 1988 (``the Act'') is a key part of this initiative. It will help ensure our readiness in commercializing recent and anticipated scientific breakthroughs.

 

Title I of the Act states the title of the legislation.

 

Title II amends the National Cooperative Research Act (NCRA) to cover joint production ventures. This is a particularly important step toward allowing U.S. firms to become more competitive with firms overseas in moving important research involving superconductivity and other fast-moving high technology areas from the laboratory to the marketplace.

 

Title II recognizes that unless U.S. firms are encouraged to organize their research and development activities in the most efficient manner possible, they cannot compete effectively with overseas firms. I should stress that the purpose of the NCRA is not to provide firms with immunity for anti-competitive behavior. Our antitrust statutes will continue to protect American consumers and businesses from harmful practices where they occur. This extension of the NCRA should promote innovation and productivity and will permit this country to maintain -- or in some instances to regain -- its position of world technological leadership.

 

Title III of the Act increases the protection of the U.S. patent laws for holders of U.S. process patents. Currently, there is no court-ordered remedy for patent infringement when a product made overseas, using a process that is patented in the United States, is imported into the United States. Title III would establish such a remedy and would permit U.S. manufacturing patent process holders to sue for injunctive relief and damages. (Relief of this nature is already available to process patent holders for products made in the United States using processes patented in the United States.) Title III would not extend the territorial application of American law. It would not prevent a foreign manufacturer from using a process overseas that is patented in the United States, as long as items manufactured under that process are not exported to the United States.

 

Title IV of the Act would provide protection for certain commercially valuable scientific and technical information generated in Federal government-owned and -operated laboratories. In particular, Title IV recognizes that commercially valuable scientific and technological information generated in Federal facilities loses potential commercial value when it is released wholesale under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In addition, mandatory disclosure of such information under FOIA could encourage U.S. competitors to exploit the U.S. science and technology base rather than making investments in their own research and development infrastructure. Under Title IV, Federal agencies will be required to withhold information of this nature requested under the Freedom of Information Act where disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States. This Title is not intended to end the U.S. tradition of sharing the benefits of our excellence in science and technology; it merely provides that the Freedom of Information Act may not always be the appropriate or best avenue for doing so.

 

I should note that my Administration is currently developing a uniform policy to permit Federal contractors to own the rights to technical information that they develop for the government. This is intended to provide these contractors with proprietary rights equal to those of other firms that submit technical information to the government that was developed at private expense. Because our policy in this area is still under development, Title IV has been drafted to apply only to Federal government-generated, government-owned scientific and technical information.

 

Title V specifies the effective date of the Act.

 

There is a growing realization that, although the United States has long been a leader in breakthroughs in the laboratory, it has occasionally failed to convert these breakthroughs into commercial applications. This Act, in conjunction with the other components of our superconductivity initiative, can and will speed the process of commercialization. There is no time to waste in this effort. I urge the Congress to act promptly and favorably upon this legislative proposal.

 

Ronald Reagan

 

The White House,

 

February 23, 1988.