Last week at an event hosted by the Global Intellectual Property Center of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., USPTO Director Andrei Iancu delivered his first major policy speech. Saying emphatically, and believably, that in order for the Trump Administration to deliver on the mission to create sustained economic growth the U.S. patent system cannot continue, and will not continue down the same path.
There was no warning for those in attendance that Iancu’s speech would be a major policy speech; I know because I was there. After the speech was over there was a buzz, and the common reaction was that it sounded good but that it was going to be important to re-read the speech to see what was actually said, versus what was heard. Such reaction was a nod to the political reality that sometimes what one hears at an event, although identical to the transcript, comes across quite different in writing.
After reading the transcript of Director Iancu’s speech it seems clear that the USPTO is preparing the industry for change. Indeed, during the Question and Answer segment, which was not transcribed, Director Iancu was pushed by questions regarding the uneven application of patent eligibility standards by patent examiners. “We need help,” explained Bob Stoll, former Commissioner for Patents and current partner with Drinker Biddle. “When can we expect the PTO to do something?” Director Iancu at first said soon, to which a bit more exasperated response came from Stoll: “We need help now!” Director Iancu then responded to Stoll’s question, without hedging, saying the PTO would have something to release on 101 within several weeks.
As hopeful as all of this should seem to inventors and patent owners, perhaps the most insightful part of Director Iancu’s recent policy speech can be found in one direct and one indirect reference to two inventors who over the past several years have rather inexplicably become the face of what it means to be a patent troll — the Wright Brothers.
Ask those who have little regard for inventors and no respect for U.S. patents about the Wright Brothers and you will rather directly be told they were patent trolls (see here and here). You might even be told that what they accomplished wasn’t particularly remarkable at all, and it was only a matter of time before someone would have invented the airplane anyway.
These comments about the Wright Brothers, the individuals who invented the first successfully powered airplane, are what passes for thoughtful and insightful commentary in some circles. The Wright Brothers were not patent trolls, and it has been frustrating, to say the least, to listen to those within the industry re-write history and vilify the Wright Brothers, describing them as if they were public enemy No. 1 simply because they had the audacity to have invented the airplane and sought U.S. patents.
Here is what Director Iancu had to say about the Wright Brothers:
At my swearing-in, I remarked that through the doors of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office comes our future. And indeed, it does, and it always did. We must celebrate that. From Thomas Edison to the Wright Brothers, from Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer to Steve Jobs, American inventors have fueled the imagination of our people for generations. We are a pioneering people who overcome large obstacles in order to realize our dreams and create prosperity. Inventors help make dreams reality, and American invention changes the world. Indeed, with American patents, humans made light, began to fly, treated disease, and enabled instant communications across the globe from tiny devices in our pockets.
It is good to again hear the Wright Brothers spoken of as champions of innovation, rather than villains.
We most certainly do need to celebrate great inventors responsible for fueling imagination for future generations. That is how and why future generations aspire to become inventors. There should also be no harm in recognizing the tremendous contributions of the American patent system, which when properly calibrated incentivizes inventors to attempt the impossible and investors to provide the capital necessary to realize those dreams.
All of the signs are pointing in a direction that innovators and patent owners have been hoping, and within a matter of weeks we are likely to hear more about what the Iancu agenda for the American patent system will look like.
Join the Discussion
13 comments so far.
PoesitoApril 18, 2018 01:37 am
I too am annoyed by any attempt to denigrate the achievements of the Wright Brothers. At the time, c. 1900, there may have been as many as 100 or more individuals, working alone or in groups, mostly in Europe, attempting to build a self-powered flying machine.The Wrights started late but won the race by 5-10 years. If there should be any criticism of the Wrights it would be that they didn’t fully understand the world changing significance of their achievement. It was a monster which couldn’t be reined. By the way, wing warping could be making a comeback thanks to modern composite materials. It’s actually more efficient than ailerons. Curtiss was an infringer but probably had a longer view of the future of aviation than the Wrights. In1952 my dad helped to restore to air worthiness the last aircraft known to have been piloted by Orville Wright. It was powered by four Curtiss-Wright piston engines producing up to approx. 2500 hp each.
PoesitoApril 18, 2018 12:31 am
Looking at this as an outsider, Mr. Iancu already disappoints. What is in order is fewer words and more action. He’s already had more than enough time to initiate dramatic change. It seems like he’s spending his time learning the ropes, making the rounds, and, of course, keeping an eye on the windsock.
The Time Is Now To ActApril 17, 2018 07:54 pm
A great leader has clear vision, strong will and expert execution.
Andrei Iancu has the above in spades.
Clearly, he is working fervently to re-built the U.S. Patent System to Greatness. Let’s get behind him in every way.
Rightly so, he recognizes allies are needed and enthusiasm for the effort must be spread.
Let’s help and get behind him; each to the extent of their capabilities and more.
And, let’s look forward and INVENT.
Kevin R.April 17, 2018 02:34 pm
Looks like Dir. Iancu will be on the record again tomorrow:
Oversight of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
DATE: Wednesday, April 18, 2018
TIME: 10:00 AM
AAA JJApril 17, 2018 11:14 am
McCollough’s biography of the Wrights is a must read.
On another topic, where was Mr. Stoll during “second pair of eyes” and “quality equals reject, reject, reject” and SAWS? We needed help then too. How much help did he provide?
I’m thinking of big round number.
Raymond Van DykeApril 17, 2018 11:12 am
Well said American Cowboy. As to your final point, in the Google v. Oracle case, now at the Federal Circuit on to the Supreme Court (again), Google argues against copyrighting “structured code.” Thus, the overall argument being made is that software (structured code) cannot be patented because you have copyright, yet in Oracle, you cannot copyright because you have patent! Added to this is the growing usage of trade secret with the diminishment of patents over the last decade. Again, hope springs eternal for a Renaissance in U.S. patenting – apparently it takes a disruptive administration to bring this change, making American Patents Great Again;)!
American CowboyApril 17, 2018 10:45 am
“You might even be told that what they accomplished wasn’t particularly remarkable at all, and it was only a matter of time before someone would have invented the airplane anyway.”
Lemley talks like this.
Someone would have invented it anyway BECAUSE that someone would have been motivated to be the patentee of that invention. With no patents the incentive to invent/innovate/discover diminishes considerably.
Consider the analogy of the Homestead Act: that law said you got to OWN (I.e. exclude others from) 40 acres if you went out and occupied and farmed the land, which helped settle vast areas of our country. Providing ownership as a goal is what the patent system does and incents innovation.
The Googles of the world can diss patents because by the nature of their technology (software and other IT), it can be protected by the other intellectual property laws (trade secret and copyright). But in their efforts to diminish patents they diminish the incentive to invent for ALL fields.
Raymond Van DykeApril 17, 2018 10:24 am
I was sitting next to Gene during this astounding speech. At last we have a Director who publicly states goals that truly benefit the Nation and undo the travesties of the AIA and extreme Office interpretations on 101. At this point, we in the patent community look to Director Iancu and the imminent implementations of his stated goals. Innovation and IP-related investment are growing.
The Wrights were small businessmen up against the large institutions of their day, who thought they knew best how to fly. The Wrights’ different paradigm and their success surprised the world, and angered the corporate establishment, who vilified the Wrights for many decades – apparently to this day. This sad song has played for other inventors too, e.g., Philo T. Farnsworth and even Tesla, who created incredible things but was unable to capitalize on their creations due to large companies wanting the inventions for themselves. The small inventor community is hopeful that the Director re-democraticizes the patent system, where the actual inventors can partake in the patent system, instead of being sidelined by the big corporations. Hope springs eternal.
Gene QuinnApril 17, 2018 09:50 am
Can’t disagree with you more. While I don’t always agree with Judge Stoll, to paint her as if she is hostile to patents or inventors is just false. On the spectrum she is just not on the Dyk/Mayer wing of the court.
Night WriterApril 17, 2018 08:57 am
Stoll: “We need help,” explained Bob Stoll, former Commissioner for Patents and current partner with Drinker Biddle.
We really got the short end of the stick when we got his sister-in-law Stoll appointed on the CAFC. Still cannot believe that someone with such a bad reputation would be appointed. Google bucks speaking.
EGApril 17, 2018 07:54 am
This “troll narrative” as it relates to the Wright brothers is absurd. Obviously, those who spout such nonsense, such as Sean Trainer (calling himself a history teacher is an oxymoron), have obviously never read biographies like the “Bishop’s Boys.” If they had, they would understand why the Wright brothers felt that others, especially Curtiss, were morally wrong in stealing their invention.
John L GuymonApril 16, 2018 04:51 pm
The United States does indeed have a great system – unfortunately there are problems within the USPTO that need fixing. These problems are major and will take time and major changes in order for these problems to go away. Can Mr. Iancu fix the USPTO? More important – Is he aware of the problems?
Pro SeApril 16, 2018 04:41 pm
I personally never received a 101 or 112 rejection during prosecution of my 3 patents, with patents #2 and #3 issued a first office response allowance.
I’m on my 13th IPR.
It will be interested to hear Iancu speak on when exactly does the PTO believe a patent doesn’t contain “mistakes that needs correction”.