State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Guest Post: Philip Furgang – Big Business Wins In Proposed Patent "Reform"

The future of America lies in its ability to be creative — to “out think” the rest of the world. Come up with a great idea and you can become rich. You can build a business that will create many jobs. And there is a system in place to protect inventors, the patent system. Think of those who have done it: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Wright Brothers, and many, many more. That system, the system which made it all possible for the US to lead the world, a system in place since 1789, the system is about to be changed to discourage creativity, and to hobble the independent inventor. Large corporations have mounted a large lobbying campaign, spending huge sums of money, to get the so-called “America Invents Act” through Congress. They must be stopped. [More . . ]

Zach Carter observed in the Huffington Post:

Today, the patent bill looks like a scorecard tallying points for powerful corporations: a win for pharmaceutical companies whose monopolies are driving up Medicare costs; a win for Wall Street’s battle against check-processing patents . . . .

Left out of the tally is the public, even as the economic landscape for American families grows darker. Historian Richard Hofstadter famously observed that Congress during the Gilded Age busied itself with dividing the nation’s spoils among the rich and powerful. But as the current patent struggle suggests, the spoilsmen are back and Washington is once again an arbiter of who lands the lucre.

Here is just part of what the so-called “American Invents Act” will do if it becomes law and what you can do to stop it.

What the Proposed Bill Does:

Imagine this: you have a dispute with a large corporation and decide to sue. Then you find out that the winner of the law suit will be decided by, of all things, a race. Whoever wins the race to the courthouse steps wins the law suit. Sound ridiculous and farfetched. Think again.

Under the present system, the one who invents first gets the patent. What this means is that an inventor can’t be stopped because a huge corporation can beat the inventor to the door of the Patent Office. Under the so-called “reform” it will be whoever wins the race to the steps of the Patent Office will get the patent!

The repercussions are much broader than the obviously dishonest idea of giving a patent to someone who wins a race to the door of the Patent Office. To develop inventions takes time, effort, and money. By awarding patents to first inventors, the current system encourages development. Going to a first to file system, as called for in the proposed law, will discourage developments. More than that, it would increase the likelihood that patent applications would be defective because they would be filed too early in the development stage. But this is precisely the barrier to independent inventors that large corporations, who oppose startup competition, crave. Given such a situation, it would be no surprise that investors will be disinclined to support startups.

The current Patent Act encourages inventors by providing a grace period for filing a patent application. During this period small companies can go to the marketplace, seek financing, find manufacturing and marketing partners, or decide whether or not to file a patent application.

Under the proposed act, the grace period would be eliminated. Go out and promote your invention and you lose the right to file. This means that small businesses will have to file first and then find out if they should commercialize an invention afterwards. The proposed act would cause small businesses to incur additional and unnecessary expense, and thereby discourage innovation, development and job creation.

Under the present system, if a new method of doing business (say, a great way of delivering music on the Internet) is created, it can be patented.

The new act, if it passes, eliminates business method patents. There is not a single other industry that has a special patent provision to protect it, not one.

The present law gives competitors the right to have the Patent Office review an issued patent. The proposed law would give competitors more weapons to have patents reviewed and re-reviewed, in order to delay inventions and innovations and upwardly spiral an inventor’s costs. So to the cost of patenting an invention add the cost of defending it again and again and again. This ups the price and the risk for small companies and puts them into expensive (very expensive) litigation, litigation they might not want, may not be able to afford and may not be ready for. The mere existence of these procedures will be another way of closing out the small inventor and small businesses.

Under current law, a company must file a patent within one year of putting the invention into commercial use, whether or not the public is aware. The new act would changes the rules. A company will be able to use an invention in secret for years and then file a patent application years later. This undermines one of the major objectives of patent law – to bring the benefits of innovation to the public as quickly as possible. After all, the Constitution provides Congress the power to enact laws that “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Today, it’s one patent for one invention. The new act permits the filing of multiple applications for the same invention. Issue multiple patents for the same invention and thereby create a legal thicket which will be used to block startups and competition.

This one’s a beaut. Today an inventor must disclose the best method of making the invention. Under the proposed act, a large company can keep the best method secret so long as they can show some other way of practicing the invention. The whole idea of the patent system is to require the inventor to provide for the public benefit the best way of making the invention so that when the patent ends, everyone can make the invention. Now, large businesses can hold the best methods and processes secret, thus the defeating the purpose of our patent system.

What Can Be Done About It:

Congress is in recess but they will take up the bill when it returns in early September. As complicated as the America Invents Act is, opposition is straight forward. If you agree that the proposed bill is wrong, you can:

Telephone your Representative and Senators right away and tell them to vote against the America Invents Act. You can find the name and phone number of your representative at this link. You can find your Senators’ contact information at this link.

 

Philip Furgang, a noted New York patent law practitioner. Philip is the author of the forthcoming book, “Patent Prosecution” (Oxford University Press.)

 

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September 1, 2011 - Posted by | -Law, Patents | , , ,

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