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Opinion: In the Race for Innovation, Missouri Can’t Afford to Fall Behind

America’s patent system is stuck in the past, and it’s putting our technological future at risk. A string of Supreme Court rulings has upended the rules around what innovations can be patented, leaving the developers of breakthrough technologies in fields like biotech, medical diagnostics, and artificial intelligence without the legal protections they need to thrive.

The consequences are devastating for high-tech hubs and entrepreneurs, including here in Missouri. Across the state, entrepreneurs are striving to turn cutting-edge research into successful businesses. But many are struggling to navigate the patent eligibility gauntlet created by the courts. This legal uncertainty makes it harder for start-ups to secure funding and bring new products to market.

Missouri’s own Senator Josh Hawley has been a vocal advocate for reining in the power of big tech companies. Which is why I believe he’d agree that supporting small, innovative startups matters. Reforming our patent eligibility laws is a critical piece of that puzzle.

Take the biotech sector, for example. Missouri has a thriving ecosystem of startups working on everything from new diagnostic tests to personalized therapies. But under the Supreme Court’s current framework, it’s unclear whether many of their innovations — which often rely on insights gleaned from naturally occurring genetic material or complex algorithms — can be patented.

The same goes for other high-tech industries, like software and AI. Kansas City, for instance, has become a hub for tech startups. But many of these companies face similar patent eligibility obstacles, creating unnecessary hurdles to growth and success.

Meanwhile, America’s global competitors are surging ahead. China, in particular, has made patent protections a national priority as part of its push for technological supremacy. In Europe, policymakers have taken steps to maintain patent eligibility for diagnostic methods.

Let’s state the obvious: If something can be patented abroad but can’t be patented in the United States, private-sector research dollars will flow to where intellectual property is protected. We risk losing the jobs and economic growth of the future.

And that’s where the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act (PERA) comes in. This bipartisan legislation would clarify and simplify the rules around what can be patented. By restoring patent eligibility for key fields like medical diagnostics and AI, while excluding basic “laws of nature” and “mental processes,” PERA strikes a sensible balance. It gives innovators the confidence to invent and investors the certainty to fund them, without enabling frivolous patents on vague concepts.

Critically, PERA doesn’t dictate what kinds of inventions will ultimately receive patents — those decisions remain with the examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The bill simply ensures that groundbreaking technologies have a fair shot at crossing the eligibility threshold in the first place, so their merits can be judged.

For Missouri’s entrepreneurs and innovators, this would be game-changing. With clear and rational patent eligibility rules, startups across the state could focus on what they do best — pushing the boundaries of science and technology. They could spend less time and money on patent attorneys, and more on hiring talented researchers and developers. And they could compete with their global rivals based on the quality of their innovations, not on who has the most convoluted patent laws.

If we want Missouri’s engine of progress to keep churning, we need a patent system that protects true breakthroughs — like the ones happening every day in labs and classrooms across our state. That’s why Congress should pass PERA without delay. Our global competitiveness, and the livelihoods of the next generation of American innovators, depend on it. I hope Senator Hawley and his colleagues will give this critical issue the attention it deserves.