Patent News

Mar. 19, 2014

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Counterpoint: Targeting patent trolls, if not done carefully, has risks, by Deb Hess

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Star Tribune on March 19, 2014.

Deb Hess is program director of the Minnesota Inventors Congress.

The vast majority of the modern conveniences we take for granted in our daily lives, and many recent innovative technologies, were developed by individual inventors and small businesses. Leaders of major corporations admit that their greatest innovations came from individuals, whose ideas are brought into the corporate structure for further development.

Those inventions have been protected by the U.S. patent system, which allows inventors to legally defend their intellectual property. A bill pending in Congress would substantially revise the system, apparently with the intent to rein in companies known as patent trolls (“Patent trolls block bridge to innovation,” March 5). They are a concern for corporations like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, as well as for restaurants, hotels, casinos and retail businesses.

Unfortunately, many people fear that this patent legislation will make it more expensive for independent inventors to defend their intellectual property, that the adverse effects will be worse than the problems the bill purports to solve, and that it will stifle innovation and threaten our nation’s global competitiveness.

The House passed HR3309 with one hearing, at which not one independent inventor was invited to testify. We urge inventors to educate our senators about how the proposed language appears to have unintended consequences for independent inventors and entrepreneurs.

We all benefit from the economic stimulus provided by the protection that patents give an inventor. According to a recent study by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the intellectual-property industry supported an astounding 40 million jobs in 2010, or 27.7 percent of all jobs in our economy.

Despite apparently good intentions, the pending legislation, as written, would shift power from inventors and small businesses to larger, better-financed companies. There is an urgent need to redraft the language so that it addresses system abusers without elbowing out small businesses and entrepreneurs.

For more than 200 years, our patent system has fueled innovation in this country. As the Senate sorts through the complexities of the issue, pressure from big businesses and special interests should not cloud the importance of strong patents. Congress needs to exercise caution before drastically revising the patent system, to avoid unintended consequences while making well-informed improvements. Our patent system is strong and should not be weakened.

On behalf of Minnesota’s innovators, we ask U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar to spend as much time as possible with individual inventors, universities and biotech companies before voting on changes in patent law so quickly after the many years spent crafting the America Invents Act (passed in 2011). Having worked with independent inventors for 30 years, I can tell you that the senators will learn a lot.