Recently the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Michelle Lee, resigned from her post after being appointed in 2014. When she assumed leadership, the USPTO was still adjusting to new law and procedures put in place by the America Invents Act. In my experience working with the USPTO, she led that important office with great skill, professionalism and laudable transparency.
I believe her most important legacy will be the focus she placed on patent quality, and the subsequent impact that has had on patent troll litigation. It is my hope that Director Lee’s replacement will continue that focus on patent quality, as well as other reforms that help patent owners defend their substantial investments and reduce the need to divert resources to defend against tenuous patent claims.
Patent quality is key
Patent quality is a complex topic — both in defining what a quality patent is, and in understanding the organizational, funding, legal and political pressures faced by the USPTO. It’s a topic to be discussed more in depth at another time. Rather, what’s important is that the USPTO’s focus on patent quality under Director Lee has taken some of the wind out of the sails of patent trolls.
Patent trolls exist, not to advance innovation and intellectual property, but to obtain patent rights in order to profit by litigation and settlements, rather than providing goods or services. Combating patent trolls takes time and money, limiting innovation. And it just so happens that an inordinate number of low quality patents have ended up in the hands of litigious patent trolls.
By litigating low quality patents, patent trolls have been costing the U.S. economy a substantial amount of money (some estimates are in the tens of billions of dollars per year). If the USPTO only issues high quality patents, the ability of patent trolls to divert this money from actual innovation is greatly reduced.
Now the Administration needs to appoint a replacement for Director Lee, and Citrix would encourage the Administration to move quickly to find a candidate with these qualities:
- A patent attorney who also has broad IP knowledge and experience;
- First hand commercial experience in IP-focused industries;
- A commitment to training and retaining skilled patent examiners;
- Timely patent application examination with issuance of high quality patents that can withstand scrutiny, and
- A director who will continue to revive and reform the U.S. patent system.
Why is this all important you ask?
It’s simple: the USPTO has substantial power to influence the U.S. economy based on the economic value and technological quality of the patents it issues (or doesn’t). Innovation, protected by IP law, stimulates research, investment, business creation, jobs, and general economic wealth.
Citrix encourages the Administration to nominate a director who will wisely harness and direct that great power. We encourage a balanced approach of protecting innovation while also reducing the negative effects of patent trolls, not by over-weakening the enforceability of patent rights, but rather by penalizing abusive litigation tactics and ensuring that only high quality patents are granted.