Early this morning the USPTO issued utility patent no. 7,000,000. (A total of 3,920 other patents were also issued.)
The patent, which is assigned to DuPont, is for a new type of polysaccharide fiber and the process for making it. According to the abstract, the new fibers have "cotton-like properties" and are useful in textile applications. The inventor is John P. O'Brien, the recipient of several other patents for artificial fibers and methods of making them.
Of course, milestone patents are significant for more than just their numbers. With the recent furor over low-cost Chinese textile products flooding the U.S. after the expiration of the 30-year old international agreement on textiles in January 2005, this patent may be symbolic of the pressing need to invest in U.S. technological innovation and development. Despite textile industry and union appeals to "buy American", American consumers are unlikely to pay top dollar for American-made underwear and golf shirts when they can buy similar goods at much lower prices on the world market. The U.S. economy needs technological innovation more than ever in order to compete in the global economy.
Critics of globalization often complain about the "race to the bottom", i.e. that workers in industrialized countries will be forced to accept increasing pay cuts that make them more competitive with workers in developing countries like India and China. The answer to low-cost textile goods manfactured in China, India and other developing countries is not reducing the pay of American textile workers, it's investing in technological innovation that produces new materials, products and markets. The future of the U.S. textile industry is not cheaper golf shirts produced in more efficient mills by lower paid workers, it's technological innovation, research and development that leads to patentable inventions like Dupont's polysaccharide fibers.