Patent Reform Official, Along With More Bad Ideas
from the make-it-stop dept
Well, the nearly useless patent reform bill has now been signed into law. As we’ve discussed at length, this is a pretty empty bill. Nearly all of the good ideas were excised in the process, and you can tell that’s true by the fact that no actual tech company appeared with the President at the signing. Instead, it was chemical and pharma companies — old school legacy industries that are trying to “protect” old businesses, not innovate with the new. That link above notes one point that I hadn’t realized made it into the final bill: the end of anyone being able to file “false marking” lawsuits over patents. As you may recall, a big industry had sprung up following some court rulings, in which anyone who found a product falsely marked with a patent claim (such as if a product still noted patents after they’d expired), could sue the company and get money (to be split with the government). I had mixed feelings on those lawsuits, because it clearly looked like “trolling,” but I’m troubled by people claiming patents on inventions that are public domain.
Now, there is one thing that also made it into the final package that I hadn’t realized earlier either: joinder reform. We had noted that patent trolls in particular had started suing more companies in each lawsuit after judges had started transferring some cases out of East Texas (patent holders’ favorite venue for patent cases). The reason to sue more companies, from around the country, is so you can argue that no other location is “any better” than Texas. On top of that, the trolls would often throw in a random tiny East Texas company or two along with all the big companies, just to try to establish East Texas as a proper venue. As the link above notes, those tiny companies were later dropped from the case, but only after venue was established (and those companies had to pile up legal fees).
The new law actually makes that much harder, and may limit trolls to suing one company at a time. If so, that would definitely be a step up — though I imagine it will also mean that we’ll have a few more empty offices in empty buildings in downtown Marshall, Texas, as more and more trolls “open up offices” in East Texas…
Along with the new patent reform bill, the Obama administration appears to be rolling out lots of other bad ideas around patents, doubling down on the dreadful idea of using patents to encourage “commercialization” of university research. We have 25 years of data showing just how damaging the Bayh-Dole Act (which pushed universities to patent their research) has been towards university research, so why are we making it even worse?
In coordination with the Administration, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, 135 university leaders committed to working more closely with industry, investors, and agencies to bolster entrepreneurship, encourage university-industry collaboration, and enhance economic development. Today, over 40 universities are answering the President?s call to expand their commercialization programs and goals. These institutions include The Georgia Institute of Technology, which has outlined its expanded initiatives, as well as universities like the University of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon University, which are announcing plans today.
These programs have been a complete failure — and it’s even worse once you exclude the fact that Intellectual Ventures swooped in and effectively “saved” some universities by buying all their patents for pennies so those universities could show some return for the money they’d wasted setting up tech transfer offices. The problem is that universities aren’t good at commercializing, and they don’t understand how it works. So they think that the way to commercialize is to patent and then sell off the patents. But that’s usually not the best way. So this plan is only going to drive greater patenting of (usually government-funded) research, rather than more such research actually making its way to the commercial market.