Licensing U.S. intellectual property strengthens the economy and improves our trade balance. Section 337, the statute that regulates unfair practices in import trade, is a key element of the nation’s trade laws and ensures that American innovators, including licensing companies, will not be harmed by the importation of goods that infringe valid and enforceable U.S. patents. Importers of foreign made products – both U.S. based and foreign companies – have appealed to Congress for several changes to Section 337 that would, in effect, limit access to the ITC and/or weaken the powers of the ITC to deal with cases of unfair trade practices. Weakening the ITC’s jurisdiction would benefit foreign economies, foreign competitors, and other foreign manufacturers to the detriment of the U.S. economy.
What’s troubling is that Hewlett Packard itself, the original startup headquartered in a garage, was one of the earliest and most-respected leaders of the 20th Century high-tech revolution that had its epicenter in Silicon Valley. It was William Hewlett who gave a 13-year-old Steve Jobs spare parts for a device Jobs was building — and a summer job as well. And it was Mr. Hewlett and his executive heirs who insisted that HP conscientiously patent its breakthrough innovations and fight against those that infringed those patents. HP today earns hundreds of millions of dollars annually by licensing its patent rights to others — according to IAM magazine, “at any one time, HP has about 150 licensing transactions in process.” And as the court dockets show, it certainly isn’t shy about filing suit against infringers who refuse to take a license.
Such is the case with the newest lobby in Washington, the self-described “ITC Working Group.” You won’t learn anything about this organization by searching Google — odd, considering that Google is a member — but according to industry sources, its aim is twofold: First, it wants to block the International Trade Commission (ITC) from hearing patent infringement cases brought by “non-practicing entities” — i.e., patent holders like universities, independent inventors, and others who license their patents for manufacturers to commercialize. And second, it wants to weaken the ITC’s power to block the importation of infringing products into the U.S.
As the Super Committee struggles to find nearly $1.2 trillion in revenue or savings, they should take a serious look at the proposal to give the US Patent and Trademark Office greater control over its budget and fees by creating a revolving fund. At the request of many in the patent community, Senator Jon Kyl – a member of the Super Committee – is proposing that the Super Committee include the revolving fund The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has informally indicated that it will score the Kyl provision as saving $700 million over 10 years. By taking the USPTO out of the regular appropriations process, the creation of a revolving fund will take approximately $700 million off budget and help the Super Committee reach their goal. And –besides being a budget saver – the revolving fund is good policy.