American Inventors for Patent Reform
AIPR has provided an excellent analysis of the numerous problems with the present “Patent Reform” bill. There analysis is reproduced below:
S.515 and HR.1260, the Patent Reform Act: the weak grace period harms startups, small businesses and university spin-offs, and will strangle millions of jobs
The Patent Reform Act weakens the one-year grace period, in way that sharply tips the patent system in favor of large companies and companies with substantial offshore business, and against small companies, startups, university and other research spin-offs, and companies requiring FDA approval, and U.S. employees of international companies. Small companies’ patents will be invalidated. The costs of the patent system for small entities will increase, and venture capital investments in startups will decrease, by about $1 billion per year. Because of multiplier effects, within a few years, the reduction in business formation that starts immediately will, within a few years, destroy about $100 billion per year of economic activity.
Current law gives an inventor one year to communicate outside a single firm, to openly raise capital, to assemble strategic partners, and to field test. Under current law, the grace period allows a year to sort good inventions from bad, before significant resources must be committed to the patent process. The current grace period lets companies gather information for a year so they can make good business, patenting, and investment decisions during the most difficult part of an invention’s lifetime, the early stage transition from the lab to commercialization.
The proposed amendment to the grace period is unworkable and unusable in practice. The bill proposes that all disclosures of the invention within a year before the filing date bar will bar a patent, unless the true inventor can show “the subject matter was obtained directly or indirectly from the inventor.” While this sounds facially reasonable, given the methods of proof available, this grace period is useless as a practical matter, because the bill provides no access to discovery of the facts that inventors will need to prove their cases. Inventors will be forced into premature “use it or lose it” decisions, to file a patent application today or run a high risk of losing the option forever.
Further, the bill is ambiguous. One key term, “disclosure,” is undefined. Because the PTO must interpret statutes as adversely as possible in order to force issues to the Federal Circuit, the PTO will be required to interpret the new law to excuse only printed publications prepared with the care and expense of a full patent application. ALL testing, offers for sale, public demonstrations, etc. will be patentability bars, with NO grace period, until the courts straighten this out. That will take at least seven years. It might be never, if the courts read the new law the way some big companies have advocated.
- The situations that destroy patent rights arise suddenly, with no opportunity for a small company to recover. The bill reflects the way large companies do business, but penalizes small companies:
- The bill sharply favors companies that can do all of their financing, R&D, pre-launch marketing, etc. in house—but creates unacceptable risks for companies that must disclose their inventions or business plans in order to get investors or partners
- Other countries that converted to a patent system like S.515 have lost their startup and small companies – the Patent Office admits it has never considered Canada, which made almost the same change, and had experienced no net benefit, only a shift from small companies to large
- Because patent rights become so fragile, small company inventors must operate as if there were no grace period at all. That raises huge costs:
- Businesses have to conduct their affairs based on the information available today. The bill assumes that businesses have perfect foresight knowledge, and can make good decisions without the information that accumulates over the grace period year of current law.
- Under existing law, patent rights are largely determined by ordinary business activities. A business doesn’t have to spend extra money just to speculatively protect patent rights. Under the new weak grace period law, a business has “use it or lose it,” at great expense and risk of error.
- The statute forces companies to spend money on patent attorneys far earlier, when most startups have the least money available, even on inventions that turn out to be worthless over the year.
- Best estimates from other countries, whose laws are similar to S.515, are that inventors will have to file 100,000 to 200,000 more patent applications per year, a cost of about $ 500 million to $1 billion per year.
- Venture capital investments will fall significantly if small companies are forced to spend money on patent applications for inventions that turn out to be worthless, and that are not filed under current law, but must be filed under S.515’s “forced to file”
- This surge of patent applications will overwhelm the Patent Office, worsening backlog. Many of these applications will go abandoned after the Patent Office bears its highest cost, the cost of examining an application for the first time. The Patent Office’s fee structure is backloaded toward issued patents, so that the Office will receive only 20% or so of its fee income for doing 70% of the work.
- “Harmonization” and international patent protection (the main rationales given by the proponents) are relevant to only a tiny minority of small entities
- Why would we want to “harmonize” toward economies that have less than half the U.S. rates of startup formation and R&D investment?
- Startups succeed or fail depending on their U.S. markets. International patents are irrelevant to most startups.
- The House bill provides that this provision only goes into effect when other major countries change their laws to harmonize toward a middle ground. S.515 removes this quid pro quo. S.515 can’t achieve any benefit if it doesn’t require other countries to move our direction.
Letter of the Small Business Coalition on Patent Legislation to SBA Administrator Karen Mills, (December 15, 2009) at http://www.connect.org/news/pdf/Coalition-Letter-to-SBA-Dec-15-09.pdf, on behalf of National Small Business Ass’n, CONNECT (San Diego small businesses), American Innovators for Patent Reform (coalition of inventors, researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc.), Professional Inventors Alliance (independent inventors), National Ass’n of Patent Practitioners (patent attorneys, a majority of whom represent small businesses), IP Advocate (university faculty inventors)
David Boundy and Matthew Marquardt, Patent Reform’s Weakend Grace Period: Its Effects on Startups, Small Companies, University Spin-Offs, and Medical Innovators, Medical Innovation & Business, Summer 2010, 2:2 pp 27-37, http://journals.lww.com/medinnovbusiness/Fulltext/2010/06010/ Patent_Reform_s_Weakened_Grace_Period__Its_Effects.6.aspx
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