Patent News

May. 12, 2014 Patent legislation that passed the House will inhibit innovation, by Eunie Smith

This post originally appeared in on May 12, 2014.

Eunie Smith volunteers as President of Eagle Forum of Alabama.

Patent legislation pending in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee can hit close to home. I am aware of a father with young children who is under treatment for a very rare form of cancer. He is on a drug that retards growth of his tumors. It was only FDA approved two years ago. Once that drug’s effectiveness stops, what is next? Where is the cure? Cancer research must continue unabated. Legislation that harms the ability of companies to profit from their products inhibits their ability to invest in further research that can lead to more successful treatment. In this and countless cases, the issue is saved lives!

If Congress weakens Constitutionally-based patent protections, then harm will come not just to research and development in the health care industry but also in manufacturing and technology industries which are prominent in Alabama. Small businesses, the engine of Alabama’s economy, will no longer have protections that enable their very existence.

Behind each innovation stands a strong patent which shields that valuable idea or product. In its current form, pending legislation violates the personal property protections grounded in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The crux of the legislative threat is weakening patents and patent rights by making it much harder and higher stakes and risks to defend one’s patent. It tilts the litigation playing field in favor of patent infringers and against inventors and investors. And if the infringer is a major company as big as Google, it will be David and Goliath with Goliath armed with an army of lawyers, running up the legal bills. If the patent defender loses in court, he will have to pay the big company infringer’s monstrous legal costs (though he likely tightly controlled and limited his own lawyer bills). That is one example. These changes could have serious economic consequences in the form of lost jobs and decreased investment throughout Alabama.

We need to explore ways in which we can strengthen the rights of independent inventors and small businesses rather than diminishing them with broadly written terms that make it easier for patent infringers to game the legal system against innovators.

Numerous efforts throughout Alabama aim at developing the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs. The Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs (AIME) program at the University of Alabama helps students, faculty and staff build their ideas into commercially viable products that benefit the school and local economy. The Innovation Depot in Birmingham that operates in conjunction with UAB is a public-private technology center and business incubator that is doing great work focused on fostering start-ups. And UAB’s technology transfer office is also a major source of commercializing university research.

Programs like these give young visionaries and those seeking to grow their idea or business the tools necessary to succeed. In fact, all of society gains. But this patent legislation stands to undermine such efforts by stripping patent holders of the safeguards and rights found in the Constitution and in our current patent system. An environment in which the power of patents is diminished and people are not being rewarded for their hard work in bringing their inventions to market – likely outcomes if this legislation were to become law – would be devastating for Alabama.

Eagle Forum nationally has continuously advocated strong patent rights. Innovators are a major contributor to American welfare and prosperity. Eagle Forum sponsored a recent Capitol Hill briefing in conjunction with Entrepreneurs for Growth, the US Business and Industry Council, and the American Conservative Union. Many participants in this conference signed a letter to Judiciary Committee members as did scores of industries and universities including Auburn and UAB. It states: “The patent system … should not be changed in this manner over the vigorous objection of some of America’s most vigorous industries. … The stakes are too high not to get the balance right. We remain willing to work toward that balance.”

We are confident that Senator Sessions will work with his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure lawmakers understand the dangerous implications of the sweeping proposals that have already passed the House. We need specific, common-sense solutions in order to solve a handful of discrete problems, instead of creating more and shutting down progress. We encourage Senator Shelby to become engaged on this vital issue as well.