If patents are so bad and Google has to spend so much money lobbying to weaken the patent system, why is the company simultaneously buying patents and racing to quickly patent their own original innovation? There seems to be a disconnect between what Google says and what they do. Could it be possible that Google has taken such strong anti-patent positions in an attempt to drive down the market for software patents so they can continue to collect patents at steep discount? That would be quite troubling, but there is no question that as Google rhetoric against the patent system has increased so to has their taste for patents
Yesterday the House Committee on Energy and Commerce voted to approve the Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters (TROL) Act by a vote of 30-22. Meanwhile, the Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship Act (the PATENT Act) was introduced into the Senate. It is now also believed that Congressman Goodlatte may have a hearing or markup with respect to the Innovation Act at some point during the week of May 11th. However, there whispers that the Innovation Act may not be able to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.
While Chinese President Xi is cracking down on political dissidents and solidifying his power over the army, the country has begun a huge push for innovation. While it’s easy for us to look askance at that proposition, we may be about to launch an equally quixotic experiment of our own: seeing if American innovation can survive the undermining of our patent system.
A clique of multinational corporations is pushing legislation that will be a disaster for the rest of us, especially our universities with research components. Small inventors and their patrons in academia are being asked to swallow large dosages of poison encapsulated in the bill. Two features are especially concerning: mandatory fee shifting and involuntary joinder. Together and separately, they seriously weaken and put at risk the university technology transfer process, so necessary to America’s innovative and entrepreneurial way of life.
On Monday, May 11, 2015, IPWatchdog will a co-sponsor a roundtable discussion on patent reform. This event will take place at the law offices of McDermott Will & Emery, which is located directly across the street from the U.S. Capitol. Bernie Knight, a partner with McDermott and a former General Counsel to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will co-moderate the event along with me. We hope you can join us for this discussion.
The Innovation Act (H.R. 9) goes well beyond what is needed to address bad actions of a small number of patent holders, and instead raises costs for all legitimate patent holders to enforce their Constitutionally-given property rights in court. The perceived need for legislation to address abusive litigation practices already is being dealt with effectively by the Supreme Court, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and the Federal Trade Commission. Any legislative action should be limited and focused on specific abusive behavior, not the overly broad approach on procedural aspects of enforcing patents as H.R. 9 does.
Mr. Oliver strongly misses the mark. It is not trial lawyers who are blocking the Innovation Act, as Mr. Oliver claims. Rather, it is a large swath of the technology community — from universities, to technology companies, to small businesses, to professors, and even venture capitalists — who understand that many innovators are now at a breaking point when it comes to patent rights and that the potential for further unintended consequences via additional reform is just too great. So, in the end, no matter what side of the patent debate you are on, let’s remember that our patent system is a vastly complex, finely tuned equilibrium. While market realities require adjustments from time to time, going too far in either direction will cause devastating consequences for large swaths of businesses.
It’s great that John Oliver brought the subject of patent trolls, about which IPWatchdog has already produced some considerable coverage, to an audience that topped 1.4 million viewers. But there are a significant number of stakeholders in the ongoing patent debate who are not in favor of the Innovation Act and they’re not, as John Oliver would have you believe, simply lobbyists for trial lawyers. For example, the Innovation Alliance, which is made up of innovator companies, does not support the Innovation Act. Neither do independent inventor groups, independent inventors, innovative startup companies, biotechnology companies or universities. If John Oliver is for helping small business victims of patent trolls while preserving patent rights he should actually be promoting the STRONG Patents Act and not the Innovation Act.
The Innovation Protection Act, one of the lesser known patent bills percolating in Congress over the past few years, would provide a source of permanent funding for the USPTO. The fees the USPTO collects would remain available to the USPTO until expended. This common sense idea has been floated for years, but it never seems to go anywhere. Appropriators have been unwilling to commit to allowing the USPTO to keep user fees, diverting $1 billion worth of collected fees from the USPTO according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association. This may not seem like much but is a lot of money, but for an agency the size of the USPTO it is a lot of money.
The TROL Act was introduced during the 113th Congress and as Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX) explained it passed the subcommittee with bipartisan support. Still, Burgess explained during his brief opening statement that he believed “the text could be amended narrowly to achieve better protections for recipients of demand letters.” Despite the previous bipartisan support, Ranking Member Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said that he cannot support the TROL Act as it is written because “it includes problematic language that does not move us forward.”
This year the Innovation Act has been reintroduced, and after some thought that the bill would sail through the House of Representatives without even an additional hearing. The Senate has also held several hearings on patent reform, with a competing view of what patent reform should look like being submitted by Senator Chris Coons in the form of the STRONG Patents Act. The House is also considering more tailored legislation narrowly focusing on demand letters (i.e., the TROL Act), and just recently Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and David Vitter (R-LA), along with United States Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) submitted the Grace Period Restoration Act, which would reinstated the full 12 month grace period that was taken away from inventors as part of the America Invents Act (AIA).
Many of the provisions of H.R. 9 would unnecessarily undermine the enforceability of all U.S. patent rights, even when clearly valid patents are being enforced in good faith against clearly infringing actors. While a consensus on measures to target abusive behavior in patent litigation is achievable, the sweeping provisions of the Innovation Act cannot be supported.
There were statements recognizing the need to keep open legitimate avenues to for innovators to protect themselves against infringement, and a strong desire to make sure that legislation focus on bad actions and actors. Not surprisingly, the Committee seems to largely think that the Innovation Act does strike the proper balance, although there was also recognition that changes could be made to make the bill better. USPTO Director Michelle Lee was wholeheartedly in support of fee shifting, justifying the position by saying that fault based fee-shifting will raise the costs for those who engage in abusive actions.
The data establishes that motions for attorney’s fees under section 285 after Octane were granted at a rate almost three times as high as in the year preceding Octane. In addition, the data establishes — contrary to the witness’s testimony — that 50% of motions for fees under section 285 filed by accused infringers were granted between January 1, 2015, and March 31, 2015. In contrast, in the 12 months preceding Octane, only 13% of such motions were granted.
Patent reform is back on the agenda when Congress returns from recess this week. On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, at 2:00 pm ET, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 9, more commonly referred to as the Innovation Act. Then on Thursday, April 16, 2015, at 11:00 am ET, the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade (CMT) Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee will also hold a patent related hearing. The subject of the CMT hearing will be the Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters Act (TROL Act).