Yesterday, Chairman Leahy effectively ended our best hope of real patent reform by taking strong compromise legislation off the calendar. According to his statement, “there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions.” We disagree. There was agreement between stakeholders — especially those for whom reform is most needed.
This news is devastating to the welfare of startups who will continue to face the threat of patent trolls. That no agreement could be reached, especially in light of the efforts being made across the committee to find common ground, is also bad news for the economy where annual losses from patent troll litigation are billions of dollars.
While this is certainly a step backwards, it’s worth noting all the progress we have made.
The fact that we have reached this point at all can be attributed in large measure to the actions of the tech community and the work of Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX). These two senators, who often find themselves ideologically opposed, put their differences aside and worked together to defend the startups and small business being crushed by the scurrilous practices of patent trolls. We are thankful for their work.
And, while we might not see caps on discovery costs, transparency of ownership, or fee shifting this year, we will not stop fighting to empower startups against patent trolls. Bills are still alive in the House and Senate that would curb deceptive demand letter practices. Right now, we have a good Senate bill and a weaker, but workable, House bill that are moving forward. We’ll also continue to work with the Patent Office in its efforts to modernize and improve its internal processes; with the Federal Trade Commission in its efforts to investigate patent trolls and protect consumers from the trolls’ worst behaviors; and with the states that are working hard to keep their local economies troll-free and business-friendly. This is not to say that we don’t still need comprehensive reform; it is to say, however, that we have made progress.
Thanks also goes to all of you for being a part of this conversation, and making this issue such an important one. The fact that all of these government bodies — along with the Supreme Court, who heard five patent cases this term — are involved in fixing the problem is really something. The intellectual property system is not easy to understand, but you still took a stand because you saw the toll patent litigation abuse was taking on your businesses. And in standing up to patent trolls, you made a difference.
You got the Innovation Act through a rancorous and partisan House of Representatives on this issue with a 325-91 vote. You forced the hands of trolls themselves and pushed them further than they have been pushed before with your efforts in the Senate. And, perhaps most importantly, you changed the conversation from a wonky, back room discussion of legal tenets, to real world examples of harm. With your continued support, and the support of our friends in Congress, we can be on the winning side.