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Posted on Techdirt - 21 July 2021 @ 01:56am

Many Automakers Rely On Patents, But That Doesn't Mean All Patents Are Good For Automakers

This post is one of a series of posts we’re running this week in support of Patent Quality Week, exploring how better patent quality is key to stopping efforts that hinder innovation.

The auto industry is experiencing a transformative period of innovation that will make future mobility even cleaner, safer, and smarter. Auto companies are investing billions of dollars in electrification and other fuel-saving technologies, and by 2023 the industry will have invested $250 billion toward this goal. Advanced driving assist features — such as automatic emergency braking — are already helping to improve safety. And automated vehicles can create the next big advancement in vehicle safety and expand mobility for the elderly and those with disabilities.

The auto industry is an innovation leader. As major inventors, auto companies own hundreds of thousands of patents and rely on those patents to protect their innovations, which incentivizes more developing and production of cutting-edge automotive technologies. That is why auto companies have a strong interest in ensuring that the patents are high quality and receive robust legal protections.

At the same time, auto companies are also increasingly subject to attacks from bad actors who allege patent infringement using low-quality patents that should never have been issued in the first place. In the end, courts find many of these patents invalid, but patent litigation raises costs for consumers and everyone else and is time consuming. The truth is that every moment and dollar auto companies waste on these lawsuits would have been better spent on making cleaner, safer, and smarter cars. Focused and targeted efforts to increase the overall quality of issued patents would reduce the number of low-quality patents that can be used to hamper innovation. High quality patents are a key contributor to our ability to achieve our important environmental and safety goals.

To help achieve this goal, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) should institute policies to improve patent quality during the patent examination phase. For example, important reforms can be made to shift the focus at the USPTO to maximizing patent quality rather than maximizing the rate of patents issued. Other changes, such as increasing the number of hours an examiner spends reviewing a patent application, may also be necessary to increase patent quality. Not all of these changes may be possible for the USPTO to accomplish on its own, so it will be important for the next USPTO director to work with Congress to identify those reforms necessary to improve patent quality.

It is also critical that the inter partes review (IPR) process, which was created by the bipartisan America Invents Act in 2011, is protected and preserved. The IPR process has worked as Congress intended and provides a fair, efficient, and cost-effective mechanism to evaluate and reassess whether an issued patent is valid. Abolishing or otherwise limiting access to IPR would almost certainly result in increasing litigation costs, slower adjudication, and more frivolous lawsuits. That would stifle innovation and dynamism in the auto industry, harming auto manufacturers and consumers alike.

The auto industry relies heavily on the patent system, which is vital in promoting innovation and economic growth. Promoting and protecting high quality patents, while weeding out abuse in the system, will help the auto industry continue to use leading-edge innovation, constant creativity, and investments in research and development to bring the next generation of breakthrough automotive and mobility technologies to the U.S. market. Patent Quality Week brings important awareness to the value of quality and balance in patent policy. Conversations around quality and balance in patent policy are necessary in protecting innovation in the automotive industry and continuing economic growth.

John Bozzella is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents 99 percent of the automotive industry.

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