USPTO Director Iancu Offers Two Ways to Improve the U.S. Patent System

Every morning, inventors wake up wondering: Will the time and money they’re spending on developing the next big thing pay off?

For inventors, as USPTO Director Andrei Iancu explained at GIPC’s Investing in American Innovation conference , their primary – and often only – asset is an idea. And if inventors can’t protect their ideas, they’re not going to invest in them.

The U.S. patent system has played a critically important role in protecting invention, incentivizing innovation, and stimulating economic growth.

But, as Director Iancu put it: the U.S. patent system is at a crossroads.

Patents are less reliable today than they’ve ever been before. The 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce International IP Index ranks the American patent system number 12 out of 50; the 2017 Index ranked the American patent system number 10.

Citing the Index, Director Iancu made a commitment to reverse this dangerous trend.

“As a nation, we cannot continue down the same path if we want to maintain our global economic leadership. And we will not continue down the same path. The good news is that reclaiming our patent leadership status is within reach,” he said.

To solidify his commitment, Director Iancu offered two principle points.

  1. We must create a new pro-innovation, pro-IP dialogue.

Director Iancu said, “We must create a new narrative that defines the patent system by the brilliance of inventors, the excitement of invention, and the incredible benefits they bring to society. And it’s these benefits that must drive our patent policies.”

In short, we all have a responsibility to use our words to drive public policy in a positive way. We all can help spread the word: strong patent protections encourage American innovation, boost American competitiveness, and fuel access to products and services with the power to change lives.

And strong patent protections help support the 45 million Americans working in intellectual property-intensive industries. Patent protections support an entire innovation community, from the American tinkering in her basement, to a team within a large corporation, to a student in a university research lab.

Director Iancu said, “When we write, interpret, and administer patent laws, we must consistently ask ourselves: Are we helping these inventors? Are we incentivizing innovation?”

The answers should always be a resounding yes.

  1. We must increase the reliability of the patent grant.

“First, our current law surrounding patentable subject matter has created a more unpredictable patent landscape that is hurting innovation, and, consequently, investment and job creation,” said Director Iancu.

He’s right. Supreme Court decisions have restricted what is patentable and created mounting legal uncertainty for all: stakeholders, courts, examiners, practitioners, and investors alike. Something must be done.

Iancu’s proposed solution: “Currently, we’re actively looking for ways to simplify the eligibility determination for our examiners through forward-looking guidance. Through our administration of the patent laws, which we are charged to execute, the USPTO can lead, not just react, to every new case the courts issue.”

Director Iancu also addressed U.S. patent opposition procedures as another large source of uncertainty within the innovation community.

“I encourage people to reduce the hyperbole and look at the [patent opposition procedure] process with fresh eyes, in order to understand its true benefits and true challenges,” said Director Iancu. “This is what we are now doing at the USPTO. Indeed, it’s one of our highest priorities.”

It’s clear there’s work to be done.

Innovators willingly face huge risks to make dreams a reality. But the whole equation only works if there’s the possibility that these risks pay off. This is why we must incentivize innovation with effective patent protections.

“Overall, addressing these various issues, especially as outlined in [the 2018 Index] – from patentable subject matter to a carefully balanced post-grant process – we can return our patent system to a higher level of predictability and stability,” he said. “Finding the right balance on these issues requires work, and a holistic, collaborative approach.”

Director Iancu has given us our marching orders.

The Chamber looks forward to working alongside Director Iancu and the broader innovation community to ensure that America leads again on patent protection – and to ensure that we can all enjoy the fruits of American innovation.

Frank Cullen is vice president of U.S. policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center.

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