The Case for More Patent Infringement Litigation

Well, not really. More like an argument for a little healthy skepticism when it comes to the subject of patent reform, which as pitched on blogs, in the popular media and elsewhere, really consists of proposals directed at two themes: reducing or at least discouraging the filing of patent infringement lawsuits, and restricting the ability to patent things that are not really advances at all. Now I am all for efforts to tighten the standards for patenting supposedly new discoveries, to more effectively limit patents to developments that are really innovative and not obvious, and anyone who has read my comments in this BNA article here knows I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the idea of broadly allowing patenting of business methods or other supposed advances that, frankly, just may not be all that unique or imaginative. And to some extent, we are already seeing a judicial response to this problem, as we see in the Supreme Court’s KSR ruling that makes it harder to maintain patents that do not reflect real innovation and advances in a particular art.

And I don’t necessarily even have a problem with pitches being made by the wealthier part of the tech industries that the patent laws be shifted to protect them against suits by inventors, or licensees, who do not manufacture but are instead simply holders of patents allegedly infringed upon by the manufacturers, such as argued for in this post here by the general counsel of Sun, although I think there should be a high bar for triggering such protections, namely proof, first, of real diligence by the alleged infringer in determining prior to manufacture whether there may be patents out there covering some aspect of the manufactured product and, second, of legitimate efforts by the manufacturer to license any such patents at fair market value.

But what we should be skeptical about is allowing some legitimate ideas for improving the patent system to be used as cover, almost as a Trojan horse, for what may well be a less legitimate goal of simply protecting large companies from smaller companies and even from lone inventors, which is what many people fear they are really hearing when someone with a vested interest in reducing patent infringement claims uses the term patent reform, and we should be very cautious when it comes to changes that reduce the incentives for the little guy or woman, even the lone tinkerer in a garage, to invent something. And the reason for this is right here, in this article about amateur inventors coming close to or bettering the best work of NASA and the large industrial companies that supply it.

Worried about jobs going overseas, about engineering and drug manufacturing going to India, about products being manufactured in China? The best defense against those events impoverishing the American economy is the kind of invention and developments of new products and ideas that the patent system encourages, and of the kind that is reflected in this article.