Protecting American innovation

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Entrepreneurship and innovation are cornerstones to American ingenuity and economic growth. The patent system in the United States has traditionally allowed inventors to benefit from the fruits of their labor, and driving competition for the next inventor to improve upon a previous idea. Our framers understood this benefit and recognized that publicly sharing inventions with a central patent office incentivizes America’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit – as long as we protect the right of the inventor to benefit.

Unfortunately those protections have been seriously weakened, and Congress needs to act before it is too late. That is why we have introduced the bipartisan STRONGER Patents Act, a U.S. House companion bill to legislation introduced by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) last year.

{mosads}All you need to do to understand the importance of protecting patents is to take a look at Thomas Edison, one of our country’s most famous inventors. As a humble telegraph operator, Edison invented a telegraph that could send four signals at once. Edison sold this patent for $10,000 and used that money to set up a research laboratory. With that investment, he would invent recorded sound, movie cameras, and most famously, the lightbulb. His lab eventually grew to the size of two city blocks and employed a full team of researchers. By the end of his life, he owned over a thousand patents and started 14 companies, including General Electric. We are better off today thanks to his ideas that flourished because of the protections of our patent laws.

But recent changes to patent laws have made patents harder to defend and enforce, and they have devalued American intellectual property. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the strength of the U.S. patent system has fallen from first place to 12th place in the world in just a few years. Venture capital investment is moving away from the U.S. and toward global competitors like China and India. In 2017, Asia pulled roughly even with North America in total venture capital funding. Simply put, our current system is sending economic growth elsewhere.

In 2011, Congress established the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, with the promise that challenges before the Board would be cheaper, faster, and fairer than in the courts. However, the PTAB now routinely throws out patents that have been duly awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office using loopholes and weaker disparate standards. Worse yet, it has canceled patents after district courts upheld the patent. Patent owners are forced to frequently battle both in court and at the PTAB with conflicting decisions. Opportunists know how to game the system and can file a challenge that can cause the value of a patent (or a company’s stock) to plummet.

The entire process reduces the amount of time and money inventors have to cultivate their next idea. For America to lead in life-science discoveries, software patents, and medical devices, we must ensure inventors have the level of protection afforded to Edison. Securing “injunctive relief” to make infringers stop the theft of intellectual property is now harder for patent owners. If he were inventing today, Edison would likely spend most of his time in Alexandria, defending his patents at the PTAB, rather than in his research lab creating the lightbulb.

We need a patent system worthy of American innovation where Main Street U.S.A. is every bit the incubator as Silicon Valley, and where inventors can spend their time with new ideas outside of legal battles. Unfortunately, today’s patent system ensures that only those with the deepest pockets and legal resources can survive. Start-ups and garage inventors should spend every bit of their energy and capital getting their ideas to the public and pushing the next inventor to compete. Our bill, the STRONGER Patents Act, reforms the PTAB to deliver the original promise of the AIA, giving our inventors a patent system that is truly cheaper, faster, and fairer for everyone.

Rep. Steve Stivers represents Ohio’s 15th District. Rep. Bill Foster represents the 11 District of Illinois.

Tags Bill Foster Chris Coons Steve Stivers Tom Cotton

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