1979: Inventing Competitiveness
On the morning of June 6, 1979, Navy Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the longest-serving officer in the history of the U.S. armed services, sat down before a Senate subcommittee on the Constitution. Famous as the father of the nuclear submarine program, Rickover had recently emerged as that rarest of Washington breeds: a top-brass crusader against waste and corruption in defense contracting. On this day, he deployed his reputation and characteristic bluntness to stop a bill called the University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act.
At stake was the government’s long-standing proprietorship of patents on inventions resulting from the research it underwrote. The proposed legislation would hand patents over to the private contractors that conducted research at government expense, essentially gutting the government’s ownership stake and paving the way for monopolization. The bill’s supporters — those in favor of removing this block — included…