Patent Reform Fails in Congress

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Officially, Congress passed patent reform legislation, and officially, President Obama will sign patent reform into law. However, the reality is that nothing of the sort has happened. A couple of very minor tweaks to how the U.S. Patent Office is funded were passed and one patent law reform was included. That reform is not even remotely helpful in stopping the terrible patent litigation that is clogging up the system and stifling legitimate commerce and innovation.

The "reform" in the weak patent legislation that limped out of Congress changes the system from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system. This essentially favors big corporations with a bunch of patent lawyers on staff.

congressHere is how the new patent system will work. If an inventor in Colorado invents a new kind of ski in January and submits a patent application in March, but another company submits a patent application for the same technology in February, the company wins, even if the other guy invented it first and can prove it. The only exception is if the first inventor can PROVE that the company copied his technology. Smaller companies or inventors who don’t race to the patent office could lose out.

On paper, this hurts small inventors, however, it also eliminates one bothersome aspect of the patent system where a company like IBM spends years developing a new technology and the files for a patent and then someone shows up out of the woodwork CLAIMING that they invented it first. Now, those companies won’t have to deal with those kinds of claims.

Failed Patent Reform

Of course, none of the real patent reforms necessary to fix the system were included. Patent trolls are still free to file their claims in the District of East Texas no matter how ridiculously tangential the connection to that area is. (Patent trolls keep a single, empty, office on record so that they can file a case where no one, not the defendant, not the plaintiff, and not the attorneys, actually has a real reason to file there.) For whatever reason, the courts in Eastern Texas have turned themselves into mindless lapdogs for patent troll attorneys, probably because it provides something interesting to do and a little bit of job security, even if it leads to a gross miscarriage of justice. The so-called reform does nothing to address this issue.

In addition, while Congress gleefully carved out exceptions in patent law for those industries willing to pay lobbyists and campaign contributions, they made no effort to fix the issue of overly broad patents of dubious value being used to force companies to pay up simply because it is cheaper and less hassle than to actually be correct.

In other words, things will only get worse as more patent lawyers use dirtier tricks and file broader patents just so that they can go to court and squeeze money from actual businesses. Patent law already has started to resemble the old Mafia extortion scam where a company is forced to pay, "or something bad might happen." Someday, years from now, when the patent system and all of lawsuits clogging the courts is even more of a laughing stock than it is today, Congress might get around to actually doing something meaningful for the U.S. economy and commerce, but until then, nothing substantial changes while Senators and Congressmen can pretend that they did something by pointing to this useless bill and saying, "I voted for patent reform."

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