A Patent "Strike" for Engineers

EE Times article calls for engineers to stage a patent strike to gain control of their inventions

4 September 2009
marketplace question sept 09

A recent editorial on EE Times’s UK Web site called for engineers to band together and stage a patent “strike” to gain control of their inventions. The editorial says engineers should refuse to sign employment contracts giving their employers sole rights to their inventions. Engineers should also refuse to file patent applications for every idea, a practice that companies have used to spawn “a business of litigation and licensing that charges for portfolios by the pound.” Although engineers shouldn’t stop working during a recession, the editorial adds that it’s about time engineers stood up for themselves.

Do you agree? Would you take part in such a patent strike?

Responses to June's Question
Are You Secure in Your Job?

In recent months, news outlets have reported that HP, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, and other high-tech companies have laid off thousands of employees. But some observers call those reports exaggerated. One tech news publication wrote that layoff figures are deceptive because most refer to the elimination of already vacant positions or ones that are new and as yet unfilled. What’s more, some engineers are in demand, such as those needed for smart power grids, alternative energy, and new-technology projects.

Just how secure do you feel in your job?


It’s in the Numbers

I was part of a 10 percent layoff of U.S. employees at IBM. Part of my package included a 62-page list of employees laid off, by title and age. It was a really deep layoff.

Bill Masek
Bedford, Mass.


Don’t Be Too Sure

If you think your job is secure, you need to rethink your position. If you work for a publicly owned company, your job is not secure—period.

I worked for Analogic for more than 20 years and was directly involved in the design of every major product the company produced. All my designs work well and continue to provide substantial income for the company. I solved technical problems for the company’s foreign subsidiaries, have had my inventions assigned to the company, and always got good reviews and bonuses. But on 28 January 2009, at 10:50 a.m., my supervisor walked into my office and handed me a blue file folder containing my termination information. I was escorted out of the building as if I were a part-time janitor.

Public ownership means that bankers, insurance company executives, and people playing the stock market as if they were in a casino are in charge of the company and your career. There will never again be security unless these conditions change.

Richard B. Johnson
Groveland, Mass.


A Bleak Future

Unless you own a company and maybe a few congressmen, your job isn’t secure—and it never will be. No engineer has ever had a secure job. Since the late 1950s, engineers have been treated as disposable resources. While employers claim shortages of engineers, they import greater numbers of foreign, less-expensive H-1B visa holders and fire older U.S. workers. It’s been 60 years of the same thing, with nothing new in sight. The government wants businesses to use cheaper labor, but who makes wealth for the country—engineers or Wall Street crooks? You do the math.

If any job is secure at all, it’s one with the government. Government workers are the new middle class. Everyone else is headed for poverty, part-time work, underemployment, or no job at all. The dirty little truth is that the population is expanding at a fast pace while jobs are disappearing. The future is bleak, especially for older engineers. Younger ones will last maybe 40 years before discovering the old-timers were right all along.

William Adams
Springfield, Va.


A Word of Advice

I am fortunate because I work for a company that tries to avoid layoffs. I am also fortunate because I switched from electronics to electrical power engineering 37 years ago. I worked for electric utilities for six years, and I have been a staff electrical engineer for Hallmark Cards for more than 30 years. Despite its best efforts, Hallmark had layoffs this year. I was fortunate to survive, and I plan to retire in three years.

For younger electrical engineers, here’s my advice: Don’t give up on electrical engineering as a profession. It can be very rewarding. But if you want job security, steer clear of electronics and specialize in electrical power engineering. While the technical challenges are not as great, much of the work is very interesting, and the pay is just as good as—if not better than—in electronics.

More important, the job market for power engineers promises to be excellent for decades to come, and most of the work cannot be outsourced to a foreign country. You can also enhance your job security if you get your professional engineering license as soon as you have enough experience to take the exam.

James M. Cook
Olathe, Kan.


Power Prerequisite

Realistically speaking, I don’t feel very secure at all. Some people like to cherry-pick different aspects, such as an increased need for engineers to design smart power grids. But the truth is that the application-specific IC designer laid off by Intel is not well suited to design the power grid. Not to mention that he probably isn’t a power engineer, which is usually a prerequisite for working in the energy field. So he’s still out of work.

Worse, the world economy continues to tank, and no amount of gladspeak is going to reignite it any time soon. When people have to choose between buying their next meal or buying the next great electronic gadget, guess which one they buy?

What this economy needs is cheap and abundant energy—and I’m not talking about the piddling amounts that come from so-called alternative energy sources.

Donald McCallum
Greenwood, Calif.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More