Richmond Times-Dispatch Opinion: Osenga: Goodlatte and Google, or the Good of the Economy?, by Kristen Osenga
This post originally appeared in Richmond Times-Dispatch on April 10, 2015.
Legislation to reform the patent system is on the fast track to passing the U.S. House of Representatives, but unfortunately the train is being driven not by sound policy, but by some unusual politics.
The Innovation Act, as H.R. 9 is known, is sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Southwest Virginia. Yet some of the biggest supporters of the Innovation Act are not Virginia entrepreneurs but rather big Silicon Valley companies that are also some of President Barack Obama’s favorite outfits.
For example, Google has long supported Goodlatte’s proposed reforms, which would make it easier and less expensive for licensees like Google to obtain the technologies that their business depends on, at the expense of the inventors who created them. This is the same company that The Wall Street Journal called out on March 24, for “(making the) most of close ties to the White House” and averaging nearly one visit a week during the Obama administration. It would be great if the Google-Goodlatte political “odd couple” could be attributed to a measured, thoughtful solution to some real-life problems that exist in the patent system. But that isn’t the case.
Goodlatte’s bill, like so much of the recent discussion of the patent system, is aimed at solving the evils of so-called patent trolls — patent owners who don’t manufacture anything — and the alleged increase in patent litigation attributed to them. But the problem with this approach is that the pejorative term “troll” can be applied to many innovative entities, including pure inventors, startups and universities, while at the same time obscuring the real debate.
To be sure, abusive litigation tactics are problems that deserve attention, but they do not justify overly broad legislation that makes it harder and more expensive to defend valid patents. Instead, any patent legislation should be narrowly tailored to address actual abusive behavior. Anything else will unfairly penalize numerous inventors and companies that develop and commercialize patented innovation.