Steve Lyon: Patent protections must remain to encourage future innovation
It is safe to say patents — and a patent system that protects millions of inventions — have had a great deal to do with our ability to grow and prosper as a nation. Our innovation roots run deep; several of the nation's founders were inventors, and the patent office is provided for in the Constitution.
For more than 200 years, our patent system has given our nation's innovators the protections needed to succeed. Patents provide innovators the peace of mind to go about their work knowing they have intellectual property that is protected and assures they will be properly rewarded for successfully bringing their products to market. Patents also incentivize future innovation and build investor confidence that is vital in promoting growth and spurring job creation here in Minnesota and across the country.
In recent years, we have seen legislation that changes our immensely successful and time-tested patent system put fourth in the name of stomping the so-called "patent trolls." As a board member of Inventors Network, Minnesota's largest and oldest organization of it's kind, I am often asked about what defines patent troll and if this threatens inventors.
Some like to say any entity that enforces their patent rights in cases where they prefer licensing their intellectual property versus producing the patented products or methods themselves is a troll. Under that definition, many individual inventors, the patent portfolios of our universities and many of the practices of one of America's greatest inventors, Thomas Edison, would fall into the supposed troll category.
Frankly, the truth is many of the special interests pushing legislation to water down patent rights are big companies that want a system that makes it easier for them to use other people's ideas without compensating them. Making it much harder for the victim to pursue legal options in infringement cases is how they would do this.
For instance, legislation that passed the house last year (HR 3309) included overreaching provisions and wording that failed to adequately differentiate acceptable licensing practices from patent trolling. Passage would have had a quelling effect on future innovation, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Sadly, Congress is planning to take up similar legislation again this year, and the real threat here is overreacting to a problem that can be dealt with via a few targeted reforms.
The U.S. patent system is far from perfect and inventor-friendly reforms that streamline the process are most needed. Maintaining the current balance in our patent justice system between the individual inventor and the typically much larger companies who license the concepts is essential to the future flow of ideas and the motivations behind them. This will keep the patent system healthy and America at the forefront of global innovation cementing our position as a leader in an increasingly competitive global economy.
While I appreciate the need to address harmful patent practices, I would caution against an approach that adopts needless and overly broad changes. Let's hope Minnesota's representatives in Washington will stand up for inventors and do what must be done to guarantee continued innovation and progress in America.
Steve Lyon, of Minnetonka, is an independent inventor specializing in consumer packaging function and design. He is a board member of the Minnesota Inventors Network.