Patent News

Apr. 28, 2015

The Washington Times: Feds own thousands of patents that could be affected by legislation, by Kellan Howell

This post originally appeared in The Washington Times on April 28, 2015.

The U.S. government’s ownership of tens of thousands of patents has thrown an unexpected wrinkle into a congressional effort to alter the system that governs American inventions.

The Innovation Act, being shepherded through the House by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, was designed to reorganize the patenting process to address concerns about frivolous lawsuits filed by so-called patent trolls.

Republican leaders hoped the bill would breeze through the chamber like similar legislation in the last Congress. The bill had four hearings in the Judiciary Committee since January and was being fast-tracked for a floor vote by Republican leaders in hopes of getting it to the Senate, where it faces a less-certain future.

But the measure has met larger-than-expected resistance from small inventors, lawyers, universities and some conservative activists, including expected Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. Critics have argued that the bill would create a “big government” solution that could weaken patent protections envisioned by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution, tipping the system in favor of big corporations and hurting small inventors.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California has been leading an effort within the House Republican ranks to slow down the legislation. He and others have been focusing on a concern they believe the authors of the legislation have not considered: potential financial and liability implications for the U.S. government.

Federal agencies have held tens of thousands of patents over the decades, including the Ebola virus, medical marijuana and space and military equipment. A 2008 study by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office identified at least 47,220 patents owned by federal entities, about 1 percent of all patents issued. Last year, federal agencies sought 1,024 patents.