With Pluto-mania sweeping the nation, we used our “Let’s Be Fair” radio commentary this week to recognize some of the ways that consumers have benefited from space exploration, and how we might still benefit in the future if liability concerns don’t stall innovation.
Modern conveniences like cell phone cameras, scratch-resistant lenses for sunglasses, water purification systems, and CAT scans were all originally developed by NASA. Yes, if you have ever been treated with a CAT scanner or know of a loved one who has, you have the space program to thank for this. This cancer-detecting tech was first used to find imperfections in space components.
Because of the brilliant minds working at NASA, it often seems like the only limit on what we can create is our own imagination. Unfortunately, one of the barriers to innovation is entirely man-made and unique to America: legal fear.
For example, at this time, a device invented by a former NASA engineer that could save lives by making it impossible to text, talk or email on a cell phone while driving is being kept off the market — in large part – because of fears about lawsuits. In a previous blog post, I explained how legal fear was stalling the rollout of this amazing technology even though the entrepreneur who developed it got two heavyweights in the insurance and cell phone industries to support his efforts.
The number of new consumer products that have been kept out of the market certainly includes many more than those developed by NASA engineers, however. John Stossel identified a number of these in an excellent article a few years ago. They include things like hypodermic needles that cause less pain to patients, a substitute for asbestos, and a medicine that relieves morning sickness for pregnant women suffering from nausea.
The morning sickness medicine, Bendectin, was finally returned to the U.S. market in 2013, 30 years after the manufacturer pulled it off shelves here in response to lawsuits that later turned out to be completely unfounded. All during those three decades, women in Canada and Europe benefited from the relief provided by Bendectin while women in the U.S. suffered unnecessarily from their nausea.
Over the years, I have talked with many entrepreneurs who either decided not to bring products to market, or who have chosen not to provide consumer-friendly modifications to their products, because of concerns over being sued. These legal concerns do not tie the hands of innovators in any other country in the world, and the real losers are American consumers.
The negative effect that lawsuit abuse has on product development and innovation is as much of a concern to consumers at the extra money we all pay for products that do make it to market.
Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and xedos4.