Patents and the State of the Union -- A Response

2014 State of the UnionIt may come as no surprise, but on Tuesday, January 28, 2014, President Obama highlighted innovation and the patent system during his State of the Union address:

We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.  This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones.  That's why Congress should undo the damage done by last year's cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery -- whether it's vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that's stronger than steel.  And let's pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.

President Obama ("Full Text: President Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address").

This is not surprising, considering it was the President's Patent Assertion and U.S. Innovation Report (with accompanying Legislative Priorities and Executive Actions) last June that seemed to kick-start Congress into high gear on patent reform legislation (see "'When the Patent System is Attacked!' -- The White House Task Force on High-Tech Patent Issues").  It is unfortunate, however, that the President chose to speak of the patent system in these terms.  Despite his suggestion, it was the patent system that helped spur the innovation that has given America its edge.  It may be true that there is a vexatious litigation problem, but the entire patent system should not be thrown out with the preverbal bathwater.  The House has already passed a bill that could lead to unintended consequences.  We can only hope that the Senate will take a more reasoned approach to the problem.  Ideally, it will craft a more narrowly-tailored bill to serve as a counter-point to the Innovation Act.  Unfortunately, none of the Senate bills currently pending look like they will serve this function.  We don't need a patent reform bill that will have a chilling effect on legitimate patent claims.  If this happens, it could have the opposite effect desired by the President -- it could result in a decrease in America's innovation.