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Patent Reform Can Get You Killed

My guess is that over the course of your life something invented since 1900 has saved your life. Unfortunately, patent reform threatens to stifle these types of inventions at the start of this new century. Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, existing patent laws fit new technology. I mean that is what they were designed to do.

It is only well-monied interests that would have you believe new technology mandates new patent laws. Proposed patent legislation, such as the Patent Reform Act of 2007 will only make matters worse. Onerous limitations on patents pressure small inventors and competition out of the market, taking with them that next medical or safety breakthrough.

The problem arises when 800lb gorillas assert their will on courts and lawmakers. Every time I walk into court the judge explains to me how much more I, as the patent lawyer, know about patent law than he or she knows. While this may be flattering, I am more often than not immediately chafed when opposing counsel seizes the opportunity to weave the law of patents from whole cloth. Patent lawyers revel in the contrived complexities of the technology and law, fearing Occoam’s razor spells the demise of their case. They argue knowing fair-minded application of existing patent laws is anathema to their clients’ technology.

Working the other side of the fence, putting lag bolts to lawmakers, is big business. Corporate leviathans have been successful in moving the dreaded Patent Reform Act of 2007 ever closer to becoming the new sheriff in town. The Patent Reform Act of 2007, in its current form assures that even if a small inventor can get the money to go to court, he or she will never win enough money even to cover the costs of the case. If Congress passes the new Patent Reform Act, the best a small inventor can hope for (assuming they can even still get a patent), is a multi-year court battle where, from a financial perspective, even winning means losing.

Knowing the lose-lose proposition the Patent Reform Act poses to small inventors, Big Business will run rough-shod over inventors, wiping them from the landscape. With small inventors out of the picture, Big Business can dial back research and development dollars and just sell us the old technology for more money.

According to Mark Leahey, Executive Director of The Medical Devices Manufacturers Association, the proposed Patent Reform Act, in its current form “would severely undermine investment and innovation in every industry, including medical technology.”

So far, this two-pronged attack has been successful in stifling the ability of small inventors to obtain a patent and allowing big businesses to steal patented technology from small inventors. Until small inventors find away to raise the $1.5M it takes to go to court on a patent case, they simply sit back and watch large companies get rich off of the inventors’ patented technology. The only hope of reversing this trend is to turn the proposed Patent Reform Act from an anti-inventor law to a pro-inventor law.

Five years from now, when you, or a member of your family is in need of a life-saving medical procedure that is not there, do not say I did not warn you. Check here for more information on the proposed reform and here to see if your representatives in Congress are behind this potentially devastating law. Thank goodness Iowa’s Senator Grassley is requesting vetting of the Act before it moves any further. For a link to the letter reflecting Senator Grassley’s concerns, check out Peter Zura’s 271 blog.

Brett Trout

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