Throughout our nation’s history, great ideas have powered our economic prosperity and security, from the Industrial Revolution to the Internet age. Safeguarding those great ideas were so important to our Founding Fathers that they included patent protection in the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution charges Congress with overseeing a patent system to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of our patent system, I take the charge to uphold our Constitution seriously. In recent years, we have seen an exponential increase in the use of weak or poorly granted patents by “patent trolls” to file numerous patent infringement lawsuits against American businesses with the hopes of securing a quick payday. This abuse of the patent system is not what our Founding Fathers provided for in our Constitution.
At its core, abusive patent litigation is a drag on our economy and stifles innovation. Everyone from independent inventors to startups to mid- and large-sized businesses face this constant threat. The tens of billions of dollars spent on settlements and litigation expenses associated with abusive patent suits represent truly wasted capital — wasted capital that could have been used to create new jobs, fund research and development, and create new innovations and technologies. Bad actors who abuse the patent system devalue American intellectual property and are a direct threat to American innovation.
Abusive patent litigation is also a drain on consumers. We will never know what lifesaving invention or next-generation smartphone could have been created because a business went bankrupt after prolonged frivolous litigation or paying off a patent troll. When a firm spends more on patent litigation than on research, money is being diverted from real innovation. The patent system was designed to reward inventors and incentivize innovation, bringing new products and technologies to consumers.
Last year, I introduced the Innovation Act (HR 3309), legislation designed to eliminate the abuses of our patent system, discourage frivolous patent litigation and keep U.S. patent laws up to date. In December, the House of Representatives, with overwhelming bipartisan support and the support of the White House, passed the Innovation Act. This important bill will help fuel the engine of American innovation and creativity, creating new jobs and growing our economy. Effective patent reform legislation requires the careful balance that was achieved in the Innovation Act.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa., and committee members John Cornyn, R-Texas, Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, among others, are leading efforts in the Senate to combat abusive practices within our patent system that inhibit innovation. I am optimistic that as the Senate moves toward consideration of legislation they will act just as the House did and pass comprehensive patent litigation reform that includes all of the necessary reforms made in the Innovation Act, including heightened pleading standards and fee shifting.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.