Does the patent reform bill really eliminate red tape?

In his speech before Congress Thursday night, President Obama said, “Today you [the Congress] passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible.”

Sounds good, but is the patent reform bill really all that?

Certainly the bill is remarkable for having bipartisan support in such a polarized Congress. It passed the House 304-117, and the Senate 89-9. (Though not all politicians were on board. The Associated Press quotes Senator Maria Cantwell as saying, “This is not a patent reform bill. This is a big corporation patent giveaway that tramples on the rights of small inventors.”)

I’ve been reaching out to patent attorneys I respect to ask them for reactions. Not for definitive analysis, but for their initial takes on the political hyperbole about the reforms, now that the bill is on the way to becoming law.

Micah Stolowitz, a patent attorney at Stolowitz Ford Cowger, pointed me to an excellent patent law blog, Patently-O, and the posted results of a survey of 1161 “intellectual property professionals” that the blog recently undertook. Dennis Crouch writes in this post, “Although some responses showed support for the legislation, the weight of responses opposed the reforms, and the median response opposed the Bill.”

What about the President’s assertion that the bill will help entrepreneurs turn new ideas into businesses more efficiently?

The Patently-O survey specifically addressed that topic. The question was put this way: “Do you agree that the proposed patent reforms will cut the red tape that stops too many inventors and entrepreneurs from quickly turning new ideas into thriving businesses?” Here the professionals taking the survey were more decisive: 44% strongly disagreed, 36% disagreed, and only about 5% either agreed or strongly agreed. (See the Patently-O survey result post for the results in graph form.)

Micah himself expressed this view: “I do not believe that the legislation will reduce ‘red tape’ that impedes Americans from turning new ideas into successful businesses.”

[Editor’s Note: Here’s the video of Obama’s speech, fast-forwarded to his comments on patent reform.]

Attorney William Carleton is a member of McNaul Ebel Nawrot Helgren PLLC, a Seattle law firm. He works with startups and emerging tech companies, their founders and investors.

He posts regularly about tech-related legal issues on his blog.

Also By William Carleton


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