A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Protect innovation by safeguarding patents; oppose two bills currently in Congress

By Kyle Keeney
Special to NKyTribune

As we start to wrap-up 2015 with an eye towards the 2016 elections, our lawmakers will take up several issues that are important to the future of our nation’s economy and healthcare innovation.

Kentucky’s innovators are carefully watching two pieces of legislation pending in Congress that stand to dramatically alter a U.S. patent system that has served our country well for over 200 years.

The Kentucky Life Science Council and the life science companies that are growing the local economy would like to encourage Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky delegation to support our universities and start-up community by voting against the Innovation Act (H.R. 9) and the PATENT Act (S. 1137).

For generations, the safeguards found in our patent system have incentivized innovation by shielding the valuable ideas and products of patent holders. In fact, the property rights patent holders enjoy are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. These constitutional rights are the driving force behind the work of innovators – work that in many cases lasts several years or even a lifetime and would likely never occur if not for the defenses found in our country’s defining document.

Our patent system also promotes economic growth and job creation not only in the communities where innovators live and work but across the entire country.

In 2010, intellectual property-intensive industries accounted for approximately 35 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). During that same period, direct and indirect employment in these industries was responsible for roughly 40 million jobs, or 30 percent of all jobs in the U.S. In many cases these are high-quality, high-paying jobs that will be around for many years to come.

Maintaining a strong patent system also sends a clear message to countries like China that we deeply value the property of patent holders and will stop at nothing in defending it. This prevents counterfeit goods from flooding the domestic market and stops infringers in far-away places from illegally profiting off of American ingenuity.

Unfortunately, the U.S. House of Representative’s Innovation Act is misguided in its approach and poses numerous problems for Kentucky’s patent holders. Instead of tackling abusive patent activity head-on with targeted action it contains sweeping changes that will weaken our patent system. These proposals favor larger, well-established entities with unlimited resources and will undoubtedly put a squeeze on independent inventors, start-ups and small businesses that rely heavily on our patent system.

Under consideration in the U.S. Senate, the PATENT Act also contains several worrisome flaws. Of particular concern is language contained in this bill related to ‘customer stay.’ This broadly drafted provision will leave foreign manufacturers off the hook for the illegal use of patented technologies and would leave patent holders with no recourse for recovering losses related to such malicious activity.

We appreciate that abusive patent activity is a problem that we must continue to address, but these bills are not the solution. Instead of wiping the slate clean lawmakers should work together to ensure our patent system remains strong. Rushing to implement needless changes will have a host of unintended consequences and leave America at a severe disadvantage.

Kentucky’s innovative community encourages Congress to vote down Innovation Act and the PATENT Act and protect a system that promotes economic growth.

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Kyle Keeney is Executive Director of the Kentucky Life Science Council.

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