Patent Reform Advocate, Congressman Darrell Issa, Will Not Seek Re-election

Congressman Darrell Issa

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Earlier today Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), announced that he will not seek re-election in 2018 and will retire from Congress. Issa, who currently Chairs the House’s Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, has been an outspoken advocate for the need for more patent reform. Issa, who narrowly won re-election in 2016, has steadfastly proclaimed that additional patent reforms are necessary in order to provide relief from those he believes are abusing the patent litigation system — those sometimes called patent trolls. Indeed, Congressman Issa rather imperiously stated during opening on particular hearing that the term “plaintiff” and “troll” are interchangeable, viewing all patent owners who seek to enforce their patents as patent trolls.

Issa’s retirement announcement will come as welcome news to patent owners, who have watched the American patent system collapse over the last 12 years as the result of Congressional action, the creation of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), and unfavorable decisions from both the U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Circuit.

“We are applauding Congressman Darrell Issa’s decision to not run for re-election in California’s 49th district,” said Paul Morinville, an inventor and Founder of US Inventor. “Issa was a key driver in the last decade of
job-killing legislation and other changes to the U.S. patent system that have seriously weakened our nations innovation engine. His broad changes in the patent system has discouraged investment in innovative startups.”

Issa’s decision not to seek re-election means that the three most ardent Republican supporters of patent reform in the House will not return for the 116th Congress in January 2019. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), announced his retirement in November 2017. Former House Judiciary Chairman and co-sponsor of the America Invents Act (AIA) Congressman Lamar Smith similarly announced his retirement in November 2017.

Congessman Doug Colllins (R-GA)

Congressman Doug Colllins (R-GA).

Currently, Republicans hold a 46 seat advantage in the House of Representatives. If Republicans hold on to a majority in the House it seems likely that Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA) will take over as Chair of the House IP Subcommittee. Collins, an ally to inventors and creators, is currently Vice-Chair of the House IP Subcommittee. If Collins is granted the gavel that would be good news for patent owners and those generally supportive of strong intellectual property rights. Collins recognizes that “creativity undergirds the 21st century economy,” and there is a need for strong IP protections. “From the beginning, Congress has had the responsibility of upholding and strengthening those rights—which fuel American ingenuity,” Collins explained in December 2016. Collins also co-sponsored the Innovation Protection Act, which would provide a source of permanent funding for the USPTO. See also my Interview with Congressman Collins.

Issa has represented California’s 49th Congressional district, which includes areas of San Diego and Orange Counties, in the U.S. House of Representatives since January 2001. According to the biography on Issa’s House website, he served in the U.S. Army after graduating high school and went on to become the CEO of Directed Electronics, Inc., a company Issa founded in the mid-1990s, which sold anti-theft devices for vehicles such as the Viper car alarm. Issa’s bio also notes that he has served as the chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association, today the Consumer Technology Association.

“As the holder of 37 patents himself, Issa has been vigilant about protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and other entrepreneurs to help protect America’s position at the forefront of innovation and creativity in the entertainment and technology industries,” Issa’s bio reads. According to The Hill, those 37 patents are the most patents held by a Congressional representative on record. (Not far behind Issa is Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY), who holds 29 patents and has spoken recently about the ways that the current patent reform debate is weakening the U.S. patent system.)

Given Issa’s history with patents and innovation one would have expected him to be more of an advocate for inventors, and an advocate for a strong patent grant being necessary to develop technology companies (as Congressman Massie is). Over the years Issa demonstrated that he was not a friend to independent inventors, even being hostile toward them at times.

Issa, known for his bombastic style, explained to an audience at the National Press Club in February 2015 that he has seen the patent litigation process both as a plaintiff and a defendant. His message that February morning was clear to those opposing patent reform. Issa told the audience that while Congress would listen to those both for and against patent reform legislation, the arguments of those opposing patent reform wouldn’t matter. He said point blank that those seeking alterations to the then pending Innovation Act would not succeed. Ultimately, however, opponents of the Innovation Act did prevail and that version of patent reform died.

While many will celebrate Issa’s decision to retire, his legacy on patent issues is a complicated one.

“As a patent owner himself, Chairman Issa understood the importance of a strong IP system,” said Todd Dickinson, former Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and current partner at Polsinelli.  “While some differed with him on his approach to specific reforms, his heart was always with the system, so losing someone who knew the patent system personally will be a loss.”

Whether Issa was a hero or villain on matters of patent reform will largely be in the eye of the beholder. Many large corporations — such as Google, Cisco and J.C. Penney — have continued to seek additional patent reform ever since the AIA was signed by President Obama in September 2011, and have found Issa to be a strong ally.

What is not open for debate, however, is Issa’s influence in a positive way, on how the federal courts structurally handle and assign patent lawsuits. “He should specifically be remembered for initiating the legislation that ultimately lead to the judicial Patent Pilot Program, which has been a successful attempt to create focus and training among District Courts and their judges having a particular interest in patent cases,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson also pointed out that with so many senior Republicans choosing to retire rather than run for re-election there is the potential that 2018 could shape up to be a “wave election.”

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

“To the extent that it signals a so-called ‘wave election’, we will have to wait and see who will succeed him as Chair of the IP Subcommittee,” Dickinson explained.  “We seem to be coming into a period of somewhat increasing balance in the Congress on patent issues in particular, so this may also signal movement in that regard.”

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA).

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA).

Although it is impossible to predict at this moment, should the Democrats take the House of Representatives in the next election cycle that could mean that Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who is the Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee, or perhaps Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), would become the new Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Both Nadler and Lofgren have been supporters of patent reform efforts in the past. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) is currently the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and could perhaps ascend to Chair the House IP Subcommittee. Johnson has taken positions in the past favorable to patent owners, such as his Amendment that would have substantially changed the fee-shifting provisions of the Innovation Act.


UPDATED @ 1:48pm ET. Added the quote from Paul Morinville of US Inventor. Also, an earlier edition of this article erroneously said the Republican majority was only 24 seats in the House. The Republicans hold a 46 seat majority. To take control of the House Democrats would have to flip 24 seats.


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Join the Discussion

24 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for John Galt]
    John Galt
    January 14, 2018 12:17 pm

    Hank @8, Don’t worry. I’m on it. – John Galt

  • [Avatar for Poesito]
    January 12, 2018 01:51 pm

    The celebration may be premature. Rep.Issa potentially has almost another year as Chairman in which to inflict additional damage and there is a story out today that his “retirement” may be part of a ploy to run in the 50th district as Duncan Hunter (the younger) may be forced out due to a campaign funding investigation. The 50th is still solidly Republican and considered a probable easy win for Issa. Hopefully, if he were elected in the 50th he would get different committee assignments.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 11, 2018 06:45 pm

    … and please note that this in no way is meant to say that you have NOT felt pain, or that THAT pain is not real.

    I DO empathize with that pain.

    That being said, I – and many others here – would kindly appreciate it if the defeatist attitudes were kept to your collective selves.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 11, 2018 06:43 pm

    With respect Eric,

    There is a difference between “It is not helpful to castigate” and helpfully noting that the “just give up” sentiment is EXACTLY what the Efficient Infringers want to hear.

    You will have to excuse me if my “castigating” includes those that carry the message of the Efficient Infringer. SOME OF US still care and are working to salvage the system.

    Help or get the F out of the way, but do not help those that are trying to destroy (and keep destroyed) the benefits of a strong patent system.

    Thank you.

  • [Avatar for Eric Berend]
    Eric Berend
    January 11, 2018 05:28 pm

    @8., 11, ‘Hank Rearden’; @12., Gene; @14., 16, ‘angry dude’:

    It is not helpful to castigate those who have sound reasons to be thoroughly discouraged, as to any value of U.S. patents to inventors, in the future.

    Perhaps their perception of the magnitude and entrenchment of the IP pirates’ influences differs from yours. With the track record of patent advocates in the legal and legislative space of our society in the past 15 years or so: who can blame them?

    @13., ‘The Time Is Now To Act’:

    “Perhaps a new paradigm is needed; one of excitement for discovering new things.”
    – USPTO Director Nominee Andrei Iancu
    (During Senate confirmation hearing)

    Yes: you see the crux of the matter. Perhaps proposing a $1000 prize or a lottery of a durable, valid U.S. patent – after all, the ‘unicorn’ paradigm is alive and well on Wall Street and in SiliCON Valley. Just throw rainbows at the inventors while we accrues ALL of the wealth benefits for “just us”. Sounds “FAIR” – right, Senators?

    Entrenched interests including bureaucrats and a large part of the American Bar, see only further legal machinations and thus, opportunity for legal business: more “billable hours”, ‘on both sides’ – quite frankly, a sad delusion that acknowledges and finds acceptable, the ostracization of individual and small business inventors – yet, so often obfuscations are seen, on the disingenuous pretentious attitude of ‘nothing to see here, move along’ – e.g.: “it’s merely a bunch of ‘evil patent trolls’ “.

    For those of us inventors who have striven and struggled for most of a lifetime (and for me, watched my father suffer through the same): we inventors who have been through the harrowing wringer behind the delusionary swindle that the U.S. patent prosecution has become:

    DO NOT have YET ANOTHER 30 to 50 YEARS to throw at this.

    And so: I would strongly disagree with the casual dismissal of inventor frustration and rage. You all risk losing our allegiance, completely. If you cannot or will not recognize your own resemblance to those who ruined this system for the inventors and do not like having those with brains otherwise recognized as intelligent level legitimate criticisms at your derogatory (inadvertently, I am willing to presume) presumptions; then you really should look to the next generation; as you truly refuse to acknowledge what it might take to re-establish mutual respect and trust, in this domain.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 11, 2018 05:19 pm

    Hank >>>People – patents are worthless. No pendumlum is swinging. The patent system has been gutted beyond repair. No one reading this, in their lifetime, will see a robust US patent system.

    I agree with this. The corporations are going to keep at it year after year. I new Issa will slither out of the woodwork.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 11, 2018 05:18 pm

    >>“Perhaps a new paradigm is needed; one of excitement for discovering new things.”

    This sounds like the disgraced CJ Posner telling us that all you need to promote innovation was pizzas for the geeks.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 11, 2018 03:00 pm

    “an,” not “the”

    I figured that you would not bother with a changed moniker, but his playing the role of Efficient Infringer advocate is in line with the role that you play for them.

  • [Avatar for angry dude]
    angry dude
    January 11, 2018 01:30 pm

    No, Hank is not me

    (Gene can confirm)

    And I already walked away from patents to trade secrets years ago (as many other inventors also did I’m pretty sure)

    Just bitching here about my past patent fiasco – loss of very valuable industrial trade secret I could keep for many years to come
    AND I paid for this loss with my own hard earned money
    Thanks but no thanks

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 11, 2018 12:45 pm

    I have to wonder if Hank is an angry dude…

    (as they BOTH seem to like to push the Efficient Infringer ‘takeaway’ of “just walk away”)


  • [Avatar for angry dude]
    angry dude
    January 11, 2018 12:19 pm

    “excitement for discovering new things”

    yeah right… tell us all about it, dude

    excitement comes and goes but bills keep piling up

    if I could just excite my electric company to cancel my bills because I discovered that wonderful “thing” in my basement for the benefit of humanity…

    They won’t just report me to collection agency but will also confine me to a mental institution

  • [Avatar for The Time Is Now To Act]
    The Time Is Now To Act
    January 11, 2018 11:59 am

    “Perhaps a new paradigm is needed; one of excitement for discovering new things.”

    – USPTO Director Nominee Andrei Iancu
    (During Senate confirmation hearing)

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 11, 2018 10:36 am


    I certainly understand your pessimistic outlook, but I think you are wrong. The tide is turning behind the scenes in very important ways. Don’t give up now.


  • [Avatar for Hank Rearden]
    Hank Rearden
    January 11, 2018 09:31 am

    I’m all for strong patent rights but let’s be realistic. Maybe inventors should walk away. It’s a losing endeavor. Clinging to news like Issa’s departure seems like false hope.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 11, 2018 09:20 am


    Why are you so active in repeating the Efficient Infringer “message”…?

    You do know that they want inventors to walk away from the patent system, right? You do now that they want everyone to think that patents are worthless, right?

  • [Avatar for Bemused]
    January 11, 2018 08:14 am

    Well ain’t you all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, Hank? Get lost, Debbie Downer. Or at least get out of the way while the rest of us fight to save and resurrect the US patent system.

  • [Avatar for Hank Rearden]
    Hank Rearden
    January 10, 2018 08:52 pm

    People – patents are worthless. No pendumlum is swinging. The patent system has been gutted beyond repair. No one reading this, in their lifetime, will see a robust US patent system.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 10, 2018 07:52 pm

    Issa: patent reform? I would call it patent restrictions or something more descriptive of what he is actually doing.

  • [Avatar for JPM]
    January 10, 2018 07:30 pm

    Michelle Lee, Bob Goodlatte, and now is Issa gone; this is a good sign. Let’s all hope that folks who believe in strong patent rights will be put in their place.

  • [Avatar for Watchdog]
    January 10, 2018 03:59 pm

    An Obama political appointee used tax dollars as his/her own personal expense account at the UPSTO:

  • [Avatar for The Time Is Now To Act]
    The Time Is Now To Act
    January 10, 2018 03:58 pm

    Issa’s legacy is one of betrayal of the community from whence he made his fortune. If the price of attracting big SV office expansion investment into a region is the abuse and murder of the IP ecosystem, that price would only be entertained by a turncoat; which it was in this case.

  • [Avatar for angry dude]
    angry dude
    January 10, 2018 02:23 pm

    Good riddance !!!

    Who’s next ? Leahy ?

    All the clowns must go !

    republicans, democrats … I see no f#$$^& difference between them at this point

  • [Avatar for EG]
    January 10, 2018 01:15 pm

    Hey Gene,

    As a registered Republican, I’m glad Issa is stepping down. Good riddance!

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    January 10, 2018 12:49 pm

    It is almost imperceptible, but the pendulum may be beginning to slowly swing the other way.