America's Patent Problem

September 15, 2013

America’s patent system, when operating as intended, is the envy of the world. It fuels the technological advances that invigorate our economy, create jobs and benefit American consumers.

Unfortunately, some patent holders are abusing the system. Rather than incentivizing the creation of the next-generation iPhone or a lifesaving drug, they are misusing patents by suing unsuspecting consumers and extorting settlements. In some cases, patent abusers who maintain that a Wi-Fi router infringes on their patents have sued hotels or small coffee shops that bought the routers, instead of the routers’ manufacturers. If the patent holder has a legitimate claim, it is against the company that makes the router, not the small business that bought it, yet retailers are being targeted in a pressure quest for easy settlements.

This same misuse of the system is happening in other parts of our economy. Retailers who operate websites are threatened with lawsuits by patent abusers, based on technology that another company has provided and that the retailer is ill-equipped to defend. Threats of these kind of predatory lawsuits continue to arise, hurting real businesses, large and small, that are being forced to divert resources from job creation to defend allegations of infringement.

The result of this misuse of the patent system is a drag on our economy. It also tarnishes the image of legitimate patent holders. This is not the patent system provided for in our Constitution.

We are working on a bipartisan basis to craft legislation to address this problem of abusive practices and restore confidence in the American patent system. Our legislation will increase the transparency of patent ownership, protect the customer of a patented product when the manufacturer should really be the defendant and improve the process for reviewing patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We are coordinating closely with other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both sides of the aisle and with Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

No single provision will solve the problems we aim to address. But just as Democrats and Republicans came together to pass the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which brought the most comprehensive change to our nation’s patent laws in 60 years, we again are working in a collaborative, bipartisan way. Our legislation will make it harder for bad actors to succeed, while preserving what has made America’s patent system great.