Patent News

Jun. 18, 2015

The San Diego Union-Tribune Opinion: Patent reform plan could hurt innovators, by Joe Panetta

This post originally appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune in June 18, 2015.

Panetta is president & CEO of Biocom, the Southern California Life Science Industry Organization.

Over the past two years, the “patent troll” debate has moved from patent law circles to the public eye. Stories of coffee shops receiving letters claiming infringement and demanding settlement money to avoid costly litigation are everywhere, and Congress is presently considering several pieces of legislation. In the midst of such turmoil, one question should drive the discussion: How much can Congress alter our patent litigation system before it undermines innovation in the United States and the past and future innovations that rely on it?

Patents are so important to America’s prosperity that they are in our Constitution as fundamental rights. Those rights have provided a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that has driven our exceptional economic growth and global leadership. The life sciences community of California, which generates $259 billion in economic activity annually and supports over 300,000 jobs, relies heavily on patent protections to secure capital and deter infringers. For many small companies, patents are often their most valuable asset – and sometimes their only one.

“Patent troll” is the common term for nonpracticing entity (NPE), which is an entity that doesn’t plan to develop its inventions. Not all trolls are NPEs and, more importantly, not all NPEs are trolls. Universities and many small companies do not manufacture their inventions: they primarily perform research and license or sell their discoveries to companies with manufacturing capabilities. This mischaracterization of patent trolls has led to an unbalanced debate and ill-crafted legislation that completely overlooks legitimate innovators.