Patent News

Apr. 13, 2015

CQ Roll Call Opinion: ‘Innovation Act’ Will Squelch Innovation, by Heather Wilson

This post originally appeared in CQ Roll Call on April 13, 2015.

Three years ago, Congress changed American patent law from a “first to discover” to a “first to file” system. Now, without waiting for these changes to be fully absorbed, some members of Congress are proposing additional changes that would impair the culture of innovation that makes America the place where someone is always trying to build a better mousetrap.

Paradoxically named the “Innovation Act,” supporters of HR 9 claim they want to reduce frivolous lawsuits on intellectual property rights. Unfortunately, its broad terms would throw a wet blanket on the greatest sources of innovation and path-breaking research this nation has — American universities and small entrepreneurial start-ups.

Supporters of the act target “non-practicing entities,” claiming that nefarious individuals should not be allowed to claim the rights to inventions when they don’t manufacture anything. They pejoratively refer to these people as “patent trolls.” While we can all decry the practice of making spurious patent claims to exact tribute, this act would classify pretty much every university in America as a “patent troll” and turns the history of American innovation on its head.

Universities don’t manufacture products; We license our intellectual property to others or partner with businesses to get inventions to the marketplace. In my experience, very few inventors and scientists make great business executives. Finance, marketing, personnel management and manufacturability just aren’t their areas of expertise. That is certainly broadly true among university faculty.