Patent News

Apr. 14, 2015

The Wall Street Journal Opinion: A Patent-Troll Bill With Bad College Grades, by Robert A. Brown and James P. Clements

This post originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal on April 14, 2015.

Mr. Brown is president of Boston University. Mr. Clements is president of Clemson University.

Universities conduct the majority of this country’s basic research. They have a long history of discovery that has led to new technologies, health advances and other developments often taken for granted as part of everyday life. The CAT scan and MRI, GPS, Doppler radar, the Internet, and hundreds of widely used medicines and vaccines are a few examples.

But legislation now in Congress, the Innovation Act, would change the U.S. patent system in ways that would diminish the benefits of university research, as well as the innovation produced by independent inventors and startup companies. The bill, which passed the House in 2013 but died in the Senate, has the stated intention of protecting the U.S. patent system from abusive practices by “patent trolls.” These are businesses that do little other than acquire patents for the purpose of extracting payments unfairly from other businesses and entities, including universities. They do so by threatening litigation over alleged infringement of the trolls’ patents, in the hope that their victims will pay them to avoid going to court.

Patent trolls are a problem because they cost their victims substantial money and time and clog the patent-litigation system with meritless claims. Accordingly, universities support efforts to curb such bad behavior. However, not every patent holder seeking to protect its patent from infringement is a troll. Indeed most are not. Yet the Innovation Act starts from such a presumption, sweeping legitimate patent holders, including universities, in with trolls, making it considerably riskier and costlier for all patent holders, not just patent trolls, to enforce their patents against violators.