Many believe the USPTO's interminable quest to improve so-called patent quality has led to a precipitous drop in patent allowances. At the same time, the US courts continue to make obtaining and enforcing patents more difficult. Now, the election of Barack Obama brings with it a likely change in national priorities. This may have profound ramifications for IP, not just in the US, but globally. Will this mean a shift in policy?
An Obama campaign statement on patent reform states: 'By improving predictability and clarity in our patent system, we will help foster an environment that encourages innovation. Giving the USPTO the resources to improve patent quality and opening up the patent process to citizen review will reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation.'
'THE ELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA BRINGS WITH IT A LIKELY CHANGE IN NATIONAL PRIORITIES. THIS MAY HAVE PROFOUND RAMIFICATIONS FOR IP'
For businesses, having greater certainty is critical for investment and planning. The statement on citizen review illustrates the current distrust of the patent review system.
A few good men
Obama's choice of transition team members is equally revealing. One member is Reed Hundt, who suggested in 2002 that 'we should slash the number of patents granted each year by 90%'. However, he also proposed that companies should have the option buy an expedited patent application review by paying US$500,000. This would tend to benefit large corporations but could drastically weaken current protections, especially for start-ups and venture capital groups relying heavily on the patent system yet unable to afford such fees.
The selection of Eric Holder as attorney general may show a commitment to greater enforcement of IP Rights at home and abroad. As Clinton’s deputy attorney general, Holder established the IP Rights Initiative, aimed at combating the piracy and counterfeiting of IP worldwide.
Overall, we can be cautiously optimistic. This appears to be an administration committed to strong IP Rights, both at home and abroad. President-elect Obama has a demonstrated record of seeking counsel from experienced advisers. Therefore, it is likely that the administration will work with industry leaders in promoting better IP standards.
This article was first published in IP Review, issue 24