According to Grassley’s office, the amended PATENT Act will provide important reforms for the way that the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) operates. For instance, the managers amendment would: (1) Require the PTAB to apply the claim construction standard used in federal district court (i.e., the Phillips standard) and further requires the PTAB to consider if claims have previously been construed in district court. (2) Makes explicit that for purposes of PTAB adjudications patents are presumed to be valid, although does so retaining the current law providing that the petitioner has the burden to prove a proposition of unpatentability by a preponderance of the evidence. (3) Makes clear that the Director has discretion not to institute an IPR or PGR if doing so would not serve the interests of justice. (4) Allows patent owners to submit evidence in response to a petition to institute an IPR or PGR, and petitioners to file a reply to respond to new issues. (5) Directs the PTO to modify the institution process so that the same panels do not make institution and merits decisions. (6) Directs the PTO to engage in rulemaking in order to institute a Rule 11-type obligation in IPR and PGR proceedings.
Strong patent protection is almost universally considered critical to robust innovation. Venture capital and private investment in new technology-based businesses heavily depend upon it. Yet, the Innovation Act is positioned to significantly reduce the value of patents by making the risk of enforcement prohibitively high.
The proposed bill comes as welcome news to large companies like Google and Amazon which have been looking for ways to start developing beyond line-of-sight flight plans and other complex operations. The rules may, however, be less well suited for smaller UAV innovators. As an article published by Motherboard points out, the Booker/Hoeven legislation will require commercial drone operators to register for a license whereas currently allowable commercial drone operations operate in a non-licensed legal grey area. The undisclosed registration fees that would be put in place for licensing is also a cause for concern among small commercial players with limited financial resources.
A truism in politics is that issues are driven by stories. One of the most successful is the saga of the patent troll. That’s driving the current debate creating a sense of a malfunctioning patent system which is a danger to the public. If one side’s story frames the argument, those in opposition are at a real disadvantage and many times never recover. We have done a poor job as a community over the years presenting the importance of the patent system to the American public and our political leaders. That’s now come back to bite us.
The problem facing the country as embodied in Congressional proposals to change the patent system is that it’s stuck in a time warp. Congress acts as if the landscape today was exactly the way it looked in 2010 or 2011, but in fact it has totally turned upside down in the last two years. We used to have, for the most part in this country, what I’ll call an honor system where companies that were using technologies patented by others willingly took licenses without being forced by court orders to do so. The honor system now is largely gone.
Another discrepancy is between the stated legislative goals and the actual proposed language. This is perhaps demonstrated in starkest relief in the “customer stay” provision found in both the Innovation Act bill in the House of Representatives and in the PATENT Act bill in the Senate. It ostensibly would exist to protect downstream customers of a patent infringer, such as a small coffee shop offering Wi-Fi service using a device that unbeknownst to the coffee shop infringes a patent. But while the Senate Judiciary Committee’s summary of the PATENT Act says that the “customer stay is available only to those at the end of the supply chain,” like the coffee shop, the language found in the bill is actually far broader in scope.
Given the collective bias of the witness panel, it is hardly surprising that on the issue of the PATENT Act there was a clear, positive consensus in the witness panel. But there is no such consensus within the industry and those voices were brought to the table by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Coons (D-DE), two of the sponsors of the STRONG Patents Act that has been debated in Senate committee as recently as March. Durbin, who pointed out that “this panel is divided between people who love the bill and people who really love the bill,” read part of a strongly worded letter submitted by the National Venture Capital Association who is worried that the PATENT Act, as worded currently, could hurt investment.
Patent reform is the new normal and we can expect that it will continually be raised in every new Congress for the foreseeable future. Currently there are four serious proposals for patent reform in various stages of consideration in Congress. They are: (1) The Innovation Act; (2) The TROL Act; (3) the STRONG Patents Act; and (4) the PATENT Act. There is also another bill – the Innovation Protection Act – that likely has no chance of passing but which is eminently reasonable. A summary of each of these five bills follows, along with one thing to watch for which could completely upset all predictions.
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.
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.
In a unanimous vote the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Stoll nomination, which now moves on to the full Senate. If confirmed Stoll would take the vacant spot created by the retirement of Judge Randall Rader.
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.