According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
A bipartisan effort in Congress to overhaul the patent system — a priority for some of the nation’s biggest technology companies — is hitting resistance because of concerns the U.S. might be exposed to greater foreign competition.
Patent overhaul appeared to be on a fast track earlier this summer. But plans for a quick vote got derailed last month after the AFL-CIO entered the debate, warning that innovation — and union-backed manufacturing jobs — might be at risk if the changes were adopted. The union has considerable clout in the Democratic Congress and expressed concerns with provisions that would expose patents to expanded challenges and might limit damages for infringement.
“At a time when the Chinese government is constantly being challenged to live up to its intellectual-property obligations, we do not want to take actions that may weaken ours,” the AFL-CIO’s legislative director, William Samuel, said in the pointed missive that was circulated on Capitol Hill.
I normally tend to agree with the AFL-CIO on a lot of issues. But on this one they are wrong, wrong, wrong. It seems they have fallen under the spell of the “more-is-better” “lock-it-up-tight” crowd of patents. And they have confused cracking down on counterfeiting with encouraging innovation. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the patent reform legislation that will hinder attempts to crack down on illegal activities in China.
We made this mistake back in the 1980’s with respect to Japan. In order to fight their tactic of patent thickets (the process of defensively patenting everything under the sun to surround a product with a wall of patents), we proceeded to create our own patent thickets. As a result, the culture of defensive patents grew to a point where it is now putting the culture of innovation at risk.
Going down the same path with the Chinese will only make matters worse.
And what does the AFL propose when the Chinese start filing a bunch of questionable infringement cases here in the US? We know that the Chinese strategy is to move up market in the innovation process. What will happen when they start using our own patent system against us? The answer is simple — companies will move their innovative processes to China (or worse yet, be forced to license their technology) in order to get out from under the threat.
Is that really what we want to have happen?