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).
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.
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).
Incredibly, despite widespread damage to inventors, most staffers still do not understand how the patent system works to create innovation, jobs, and economic growth. They do not understand how patents drive capital to small patent-based businesses thus delivering the vast majority of our new technologies to American consumers. How can it be that they have not heard this perspective? Why aren’t the patent lobbyists in Washington like IPO and AIPLA protecting the patent system? Are the views of inventors so far apart from corporate patent owners? Or are the companies so caught up in other Washington issues that pushing hard for strong patent rights conflicts with other agendas and political asks? Too many Congressional staffers don’t understand the patent system, but staffers are not the ones at fault here.
Significant consensus was reached between representatives of small business and universities at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on March 19, 2015. The hearing was held to take testimony relating to proposed reforms to the U.S. patent system. The day’s discussion prompted Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) to make the comment that the argument over…
Universities are dependent upon the U.S. patent system and the capacity of that system to protect the legitimate intellectual property rights of individual university inventors and large companies alike. This system drives U.S. innovation and our economic competitiveness in the world. Patents provide universities with the means to ensure that many discoveries resulting from research are transferred to the private sector where those discoveries can be turned into innovative products and processes that power our economy, create jobs, and improve quality of life.
Fortunately, a new study showing that academic patent licensing contributed more than $1 trillion to the U.S. economy over eighteen years blows the stuffing right out of that straw man. We can only hope Congress gets the message before it turns the patent system into a weapon to squash inventors.
There is no credible evidence behind proposals to make the drastic changes embodied in the Innovation Act, the removal of discretion from judges to judge each case on an individual basis with mandatory stays and fee shifting, and new rules for pleading and discovery that would undermine the ability of legitimate inventors and patent holders from enforcing their rights against infringers.
Earlier today 40 economists and law professors wrote to Senate and House Judiciary leaders explaining that the data it that keeps being cited to justify HR 9, otherwise known as the Innovation Act, is “flawed, unreliable and incomplete.” The professors caution Congress to proceed cautiously, particularly given the numerous misleading and flawed studies that “highly exaggerated claims regarding patent trolls.”
Earlier today the United States Senate confirmed Michelle Lee to head the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a position that has been vacant since the resignation of David Kappos at the end of January 2013. Lee’s official title will be Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
According to Congressman Collins, who I spoke with via telephone on Friday, March 6, 2015, there was a great deal of treatment of the SEA at the subcommittee level during the 113th Congress, but now during the 114th Congress consideration will move to the full Committee level, which suggests a seriousness about getting something done. ”Music licensing will be an area where something bubbles up this Congress,” Collins explained. ”I’m hoping the industry will come together.”
Carly Fiorina: ‘[W]atch carefully who is supporting that [the Innovation Act]. It’s not the small it’s the big. It’s the big companies whose ongoing economic benefit depends upon their ability to acquire innovations and patents at a lower cost.”
Senator Coons: ”[P]atents are not just foundational. Patents are really about the American Dream. They are about what it means to come to this country or be from this country and believe in the possibility that you and a team of folks that you work with can invent and develop and then protect a groundbreaking innovation. Patents are about constantly laying a stronger foundation upon which future generations can continue to innovate and about insuring we will find solutions to the challenges that face us, not just here but around the world… So here is the truth. We need to both strengthen patents and target real abuse. They are not mutually exclusive…”
An effort to address bad actors may unnecessarily create significant hurdles for innovators seeking to enforce or license the rights to their own innovations. The fear of unintended consequences requires targeted reform that will specifically address only the abusive behaviors relied upon by the bad actors, namely misleading and fraudulent demand letters. The trick will be to tackle these abusive behaviors that serve no legitimate purpose while not making legitimate business communications impossible. Luckily, it is not difficult to spot fraudulent demand letters and distinguish them from legitimate business inquiries. But will Congress be able to strike the appropriate legislative solution?
The STRONG Patents Act appears to be overwhelmingly favorable to innovators and patent owners. This legislation stands in stark contrast with the Innovation Act submitted in the House by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (D-Va) and shows a very different, alternative vision for the patent system.