TPA Joins Coalition Letter Urging Patent Reform

Michi Iljazi

January 31, 2014

US Patent and Trademark Office (courtesy USPTO.gov)

Patent reform is an issue that is rarely given as much attention in the media in comparison to health care, taxes, etc. However, it is extremely important and the current state of the US patent system is in need of reform, specifically when it comes to its litigation practices. President Obama discussed patent reform in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night stressing the importance of a viable structure for the patent system and TPA believes that the patent system must welcome reforms that encourage further creativity and strengthen the overall patent process. That is why TPA, along with American Commitment, American Consumer Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for Individual Freedom, Frontiers of Freedom, Property Rights Alliance, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council signed a letter from Digital Liberty to the Senate Judiciary Committee calling attention to the work that needs to be done regarding patent reform.

Read the full letter below:

 

January 30, 2014

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
437 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
135 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20150

 

Dear Chairman Leahy & Ranking Member Grassley,

We write to thank you for your attention to the health of our nation’s patent system and to share our perspectives regarding proposals to reform the system and deter harmful litigation practices. We believe that in an economy, which is increasingly supported by knowledge-based products, the health of our patent system is vitally important to American competitiveness in both national and international arenas.

Our Constitution empowers Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” By these simple terms, the Constitution both recognizes the importance of the spark of creative genius to the future of the Nation and the importance of rewarding that genius with an exclusive property right. In today’s knowledge-based economy, patents are more important than ever to encourage and stimulate innovation, while ensuring that inventors are compensated for their work.

The current patent reform debate is driven – rightly – by concerns over abusive conduct in litigation. Efforts to deter this conduct, through measures such as balanced fee shifting, heightened pleading standards, and discovery reform, are warranted to deter the increasingly aggressive and abusive practices of “patent trolls.” We are pleased to support such reforms. These reforms preserve incentives for innovation and the integrity of patent ownership, and appropriately target predatory litigation practices.

Balanced fee shifting: The threat of bearing the costs if an unsubstantiated claim is brought forward in patent litigation, will serve as an effective deterrent to abusive patent lawsuits. Unless the plaintiff filed an objectively justifiable claim, the court should award reasonable costs and fees (including attorney fees) of the prevailing party. Plaintiffs pursuing cases on questionable grounds should think twice about hauling innovators into costly litigation.

Heightened pleading: Requiring a clear statement as to the claimed act of infringement and the patent infringed upon will reduce unnecessary financial burdens on defendants and increase transparency in the legal process. Often, complaints are so vague that targets do not know which claims of the patent they are alleged to have infringed or which products or services are allegedly infringing. Defendants are often forced into incur high legal costs associated with pursuing arguments that are irrelevant once the plaintiff’s case becomes clear. These costs can be prohibitive for defendants, especially independent inventors and small businesses.

Discovery Reform: Often, abusive tactics aim to seek extensive discovery to drive up costs and burdens for defendants and create pressure for settlement. To eliminate this source of abuse, if a party requests additional discovery beyond core documentary evidence, that party should be responsible for the costs of additional discovery of the non-requesting party.

While we fully support the three aforementioned reforms, we are concerned by proposals that would expand the transitional covered business method patent review procedure (CBM) established by Sec. 18 of the America Invents Act. CBM would place a cloud over the patents of innovators by subjecting those patents – throughout their lifetime – to commercially motivated challenges on terms favorable to the challenger. One of the most troubling aspects is the eighteen-month waiting period, which could allow a patent-infringer to continue its practices and gain market share, while the legitimate patent holder waits for a decision.

Furthermore, the litigation reforms mentioned above would go a long way to deter abusive litigation without a high probability of damaging property rights. The CBM review process has only been available for two years and only one case has been seen through. This program has not been thoroughly vetted and the possible harms that could result, particularly during the 18-month waiting period, outweigh the benefits; benefits that would, in fact, be realized through balanced fee shifting, heightened pleading, and discovery reform. In this light we see CBM review as unnecessary and perhaps very harmful.

We appreciate the opportunity to share our views and look forward to working with you as balanced, litigation-focused patent reform moves forward.

Sincerely,

 

Phil Kerpen, President, American Commitment

Stephen Pociask, President, American Consumer Institute

Brent Gardner, Director Federal Affairs, Americans for Prosperity

Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform

Jeffrey Mazzella, President, Center for Individual Freedom

Katie McAuliffe, Executive Director, Digital Liberty

George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom

Lorenzo Montanari, Executive Director, Property Rights Alliance

Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

David Williams, President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance