Patent News

May. 26, 2014

Arkansas Business Commentary: Patent Reform Proposals Threaten Innovators, by Jerry McCormick

This post originally appeared in Arkansas Business on May 26, 2014.

When Congress tries to “fix” something that affects my business, I immediately begin to worry about unintended consequences. That is certainly the case with patent reform.

I can support measures to improve patent quality and curb excessive litigation costs for all users of the patent system. However, I’m concerned that legislation currently being considered by the Senate attempting to achieve these goals will hurt the value and enforceability of patents and undermine an American economy that relies so heavily on innovation.

Our company has greatly benefited from America’s patent system, and I can tell you that some changes that are being proposed would have been barriers to our success in patenting new technology that improves the reliability of dimmable LED light bulbs. This technology has allowed NextGen to offer our customers proprietary products for their lighting needs, which is critical to our business model.

America’s innovators are the backbone of the country’s economy. They produce powerful new technologies that shape the way we live and learn, and they fuel economic growth on both a local and national level. In Arkansas, our patent system provides the protections needed for companies to develop exciting new products in advanced energy, nanotechnology, biomedicine and electronics, among other fields.

Behind each innovator stands a patent system that offers critical safeguards for intellectual property. Strong patents give innovators the peace of mind needed to operate confidently in competitive environments. But proposed reforms would weaken the patent system and put innovators in a vulnerable position. I am hopeful lawmakers will take the necessary steps to ensure that the American patent system remains strong and effective.

Even though patent reform may be a worthwhile endeavor, the way in which the changes are currently written would actually weaken patents. These proposed reforms would make it much easier for infringers to pursue litigation against legitimate patent holders, which would place my small company at a huge disadvantage in a highly competitive marketplace.

These proposed reforms would also seriously limit the communications innovators require in order to protect their patents. While some abuse these practices, demand letters and notices of infringement are often the only means of defense for innovators who do not have the resources to protect their patents.

Our current patent system also ensures America remains globally competitive by fostering economic growth and innovation. We certainly do not want to give up these advantages by drastically reshaping a system that isn’t broken in order to target the harmful practices of a few bad actors. It’s critical that lawmakers work together on both sides of the aisle to craft legislation that addresses the problems at hand while preserving what has worked so well for so long. A careful consideration of all the facts as well as a deep understanding of what these changes would mean for the American economy and its innovators is essential.

I know that Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman understand the benefits of maintaining the best patent system in the world, and I look forward to working with them to see that this legislation better reflects the interests of Arkansas’ innovators.

Patent reform is a complex issue. Arkansas’ innovators are counting on our elected leaders to stand up for our rights when it matters most by taking the necessary time to ensure that any changes to our current patent system don’t include unintended consequences that place innovators and small businesses at risk.