Friday, June 24, 2011

Patent Law revision

The US House just passed a law to revise US patent law. The Senate has already passed it's own patent law, so after the House-Senate conference resolves the differences, it will go to Obama for signature.
Speaking as someone who worked in new product development for forty years, the US patent system is research and development hostile. Develop something, get it into production and bingo, get sued. There is always some patent troll holding a vaguely worded patent with claims as broad as all outdoors demanding money. Things like "Use of computer to transmit data", or "Register customer's sale after one mouse click."
These are mickey mouse patents that should never have been granted, but they were granted, and now some lawyers use them to take money away from developers.
What we need is to tighten up the granting of patents, and make it easier to revoke the mickey-mouse patents that are out there.
What are we going to get? More welfare for lawyers. They want to change the US system from "first to invent" to "first to file a patent". This is good for lawyers, 'cause it requires every inventor to file an expensive patent as early as possible. Right now you don't have to file until the idea shapes up to the point that it has some economic possibilities. Under "first-to-file" you better file as soon as possible, lest the idea leak out and some troll files first. Result, lots and lots of patent applications. Plus, large companies with legal staff have it easier filing a patent than a small startup does.


DCE said...

Holding a few patents myself, I can say I am not pleased with some of the changes being proposed.

I've had to deal with patent infringement suits that turned out to be nuisance suits designed to try to keep us from selling a popular instrument. (Turns out the patent was invalid because it tried to patent a BellCore specification going back to 1989.)

One present provisional patent of mine has been challenged by a competitor, but it turns out their patent was based upon an instrument of ours that had been on the market for 4 years before they even filed their provisional.

Even though we hold our invention ideas 'close to the chest' we have to be very careful when we discuss the idea to make sure a customer or competitor doesn't try to claim it as theirs. (We had that problem with one of our customers, who shall remain nameless, who tried to patent one of our ideas. They even went so far to use our documentation in their patent application. We had filed our provisional about 3 weeks after they did, but they sued us claiming we had stolen it from them. But we had all the documentation, including our notebooks and the original digital files of the invention design. All they had were hardcopies of our files.) Needless to say the PTO found in our favor. Under the proposed laws we would have lost that battle even though we could prove they had stolen the idea (and the documentation) from us.

This is supposed to help us?

Dstarr said...

At Analog Devices, we got sued on a good number of the new parts we put out. In each case, the Analog legal department was able to look at the other guys parts and find one that infringed a patent that Analog held. Kept the lawyers busy, but it didn't do anything to protect the rights of the developers.