In 1969, we landed a man on the moon, and because of that amazing achievement, children were fascinated by space and reached for the stars.

Are the stars for the children of the 21st century still within reach?

Three years after Apollo 11, Hawaii’s Patsy Mink expanded the universe for women as the co-author and driving force behind Title IX, the landmark legislation that prohibits gender-based discrimination in education.

Forty years later, women outnumber men in college by four to three, attaining advanced degrees at an even higher rate.

As a single mother who received my nursing degree when my child was four-years old, I am part of the legacy of Title IX. My daughter is now in college herself, and I am a critical care nurse and an inventor with three issued patents.

Last week, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin from my home state of Illinois and Hawaii’s Senator Mazie Hirono joined their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to consider legislation that I am concerned will weaken the ability of women like me to build on educational opportunities and invent a better future for our daughters. If the legislation that Senators Hirono and Durbin will be asked to vote on passes, enforcing patents will be more expensive and financially risky than it already is for our country’s true “mothers of invention” — small inventors who think outside the box and are not part of big corporations. These unsung sources of American ingenuity — often women, mothers, people of color, and others without extensive resources — will be less able to secure investment for their ideas.

By limiting access to capital, innovation will be suppressed and inventors will go unrewarded. Business leaders and politicians increasingly express concerns about the need for innovation in order to support a dynamic economy. Yet true innovation comes from individuals who are passionate about an idea and are willing to fight for it against all odds. Patsy Mink herself said it best when she opposed the misleadingly titled “American Inventors Protection Act of 1999”:

“Mr. Speaker, our nation’s founders designed our society to be a land of unfettered opportunity … H.R. 1907 places at risk the right to enjoy the benefits generated by a person’s ingenuity and innovative ideas. Without this right, we strangle the incentive for people to create and develop vital products and services which could improve our daily lives and bolster our economy.”

I recently told the story of my life and the road I took to become an inventor to Hawaii author Shay Chan Hodges, which she included in her book, Lean On and Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy:

“In high school, I had very high SAT and ACT scores and was recognized by the National Institutes of Health as one of the top 100 science students in the nation. Between my high achievement and the fact that I am a Hispanic woman, I was offered quite a few scholarships. I ultimately had to decide between Yale and the University of Illinois, and chose Illinois because it was closer to home.

“When I started school, I was planning on getting my Ph.D in microbiology and genetics. About halfway through my second year, however, I got caught up with the wrong guy who convinced me that if I loved him, I would quit school and come home. So I gave up my scholarship, and at the age of 20, gave birth to my daughter.

“Ultimately, I became a single parent fully responsible for my daughter’s financial support while she was growing up. I started nursing school when my daughter was about two and a half years old. Having a child really got me focused.

“Within four years, I started working as a contract nurse, which was much more lucrative than working directly for a hospital or doctor’s office. I worked for Johnson & Johnson educating doctors about products.

“On about my third day of work at Johnson & Johnson, I became an inventor. I came up with a new medical technique for wound closure, and since I was working for a contracting agency that doesn’t have intellectual property agreements, I was able to patent my invention. I currently have three patents. Unfortunately, patents are both expensive to obtain and costly and difficult to enforce. And it takes capital to be able to earn money from them. And since my first priority has always been my daughter, I have had to limit how much work I do on this so that other parts of my life don’t suffer.

“It’s important to me that my daughter sees that there is no ceiling for her. When she was in high school, I would sometimes speak to classes at her school about intellectual property, copyrights, and trademarks. I wanted to help the students, and I wanted them and my daughter to see all the things that women can do.”

I want to see a patent system that supports innovators in my daughter’s generation, providing them with opportunities to improve their world. Unfortunately, over the last 15 years, this system has changed, creating barriers for small inventors. And inventors will face almost impossible odds if the legislation that the Senate is considering — which has already passed the House — becomes law.

My patents have cost me more than $50,000. Without this intellectual property I would not have been able to defend my invention. The proposed legislation will make it more difficult for inventors to protect their inventions and it will give large companies an even greater upper hand in court.

It was certainly true in my case that necessity was the mother of invention. It is also clearly true that mothers and women are increasingly responsible for their families’ financial well being. They are a driving force in the U.S. economy, and will be increasingly necessary for innovation in the future.

For the thousands of small inventors in this country to succeed, we need to be fighters like Patsy Mink, and stand up for our constitutional right to our inventions. We need to celebrate American inventors and fight to protect their ability to produce, defend, market, and distribute their patented products or services. We must defend “Made in the U.S.A.”

I have been fighting against the degradation of the patent system for over 10 years now. And I know that if the patent legislation currently before Congress becomes law, the stars will definitely be out of reach for women like me everywhere.

About the author: Lisa Brothers is a mother, nurse and inventor.

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