Patent News

Apr. 16, 2014

New Haven Register Opinion: Forum: Small inventor and the troll: How little guy is getting lost in shuffle, by Warren Tuttle

This post originally appeared in the New Haven Register on April 16, 2014.

Warren Tuttle of New Canaan is president of the United Inventors Association.

Have you ever heard of a patent troll? The spin-doctors have done a great job capturing the hearts and minds of the general public by using the image of the “troll” in ads and radio spots to evoke dislike for the inventor community.

A recent op-ed by Stan Sorkin published here discussed this situation in more detail, calling for patent reform. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, only 19 percent of the patent infringement lawsuits actually involve these kinds of cases. Now, Congress is considering fast-track legislation that will jeopardize the entire patent system for an issue that is much smaller than you or I would have imagined.

Recently, I joined nine inventors who headed to Washington to meet with members of Congress on the legislation they call the “patent transparency and accountability act.” How could something like that be bad? Unfortunately, this bill could have a chilling effect on innovation in our country by seriously weakening the patent system. As we met with staffers to express our concerns, lobbyists for the big high-tech firms were meeting with the senators themselves. Big money talks and we are, in some ways, like the farmers trying to organize against soldiers.

Stepping back and observing this whole process was very educational. It is challenging and expensive to commercialize an idea today. A patent is critical to protecting an investment for a small inventor. And that inventor could be your next-door neighbor, your daughter’s teacher or a physician at the local hospital who has a great idea that could make it easier for your diabetic child to check his or her blood sugar. These are the very people who will be affected by this bill, not just the “patent trolls.”

Further, those who invest in their ideas will take a second, third and even fourth look at concepts because of the potential exposure and risk created by this bill. This provision would expand and make permanent the post-grant review program for covered business method patents and subject many patents to additional costly administrative proceedings and could keep companies tied up in court indefinitely.

In addition, the bill includes a “customer stay” provision to exempt retailers from patent infringement suits. However, the language is so broad that it exempts the retailer and almost everyone else including the big box stores and device makers.

Finally, in an effort to protect small businesses from abusive mass letter campaigns demanding payment for patent infringement, the proposed bill prevents legitimate enforcement efforts. Under the proposed law, for example, an innovator who believed their patent had been violated, could be prevented from legitimately notifying the violator.

The proposed legislation is a bit like killing weeds by pouring gasoline on your lawn and lighting a match. What are we doing here? Why the rush to pass a bill so quickly when small inventors are telling you how much this will hurt their ability to create new and innovative technology?

Sen. Richard Blumenthal says he hears the concerns of his constituents, but we’re not sure he’s hearing us on this. Senate Bill 1720 will hurt our ability to be innovative, while protecting big company profits. This bill undermines the promise of the American Dream and says to the “little guy” that he or she no longer matters.

It’s time to take a step back and come up with a proposal that will address patent abuses while protecting the very essence of what makes our country great. We deserve better and Congress should take a step back and fully vet what impact this proposal will have on innovation, the small inventor and the future.