University should back the right kind of patent reform

I recently read with some interest an April 23 Minnesota Daily editorial titled “University should back patent reform.”

I’m just a University of Minnesota student, and I admit I am rather rarely in tune with the political agenda, but I have more than just a passing interest in intellectual property. As founder and president of the student group Catalyst Laboratories, my colleagues and I are watching this issue very closely. Engineering and business students (the world’s future small inventors) like us are the ones who will be most directly affected by the new legislation. Virtually everyone agrees that there are reforms needed. But of course, the devil is always in the details.

There is a world of difference between opposing patent reform and opposing a specific piece of legislation riddled with unintentional consequences. The Daily Editorial Board writes that it is “sympathetic to concerns about enforcement.”

I believe that is one of the key reasons that the University, other academic institutions and small inventors should stand together in opposition to this specific legislation which our senators will see in committee. They are critical of this specific legislation, even if it means they risk turning down the ability to better stop the “patent trolls” with which the bill is concerned. Small inventors and researchers at the University want to make sure that reform is done thoughtfully and that the next Nikola Tesla or Steve Jobs will still be able to defend their patents. After all, it is the defense of those patents that will lead to the next solution to the problems of our world.

The problem as I understand it is that this bill is being fast-tracked through Congress with the fear of patent trolls as its driving force. This leaves little time for understanding the full scope of unintentional barriers that the bill could put on small inventors such as new pleading requirements, fee shifting, discretionary bonding and eliminating post-grant review. The legislation is being spearheaded by giants like Google, which perhaps ironically also found its beginnings in the protection provided by intellectual property law. I may not be fully aware of the true motives of these massive industry leaders, but I fear they are now so wealthy that they have the ability to trample on the “little guy” seeking to protect his or her intellectual property. These exact actions are at the heart of what the bill is attempting to put to an end, and it is unsettling that it may appear as a double-edged sword.

The board has a great idea in calling Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to sit down with the University to discuss patent reform, and I truly hope that may become a reality. I can only assume the editors of the Daily are unaware that intellectual property leaders from the University have already sat down with Franken’s staff and are in the process of gaining an audience with the senator himself to make their concerns known. I also assume the editors of the Daily know that small inventors had Klobuchar scheduled to speak last week at William Mitchell College of Law, where they’d have had a chance to make their concerns known, but Klobuchar elected to back out of the event and instead address it through a pre-recorded video.

Intellectual property is too important to allow multinational corporate interests to rush it through the process. Clear understanding of the possible unintended consequences must be available to all parties before our senators move this bill along. Precautionary delays have already been utilized, and I hope these will continue until a fully transparent verdict can be found. Our honorable senators have a tremendous opportunity as two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from the same state to stand with our University to maintain our history of ingenuity and Minnesota small inventors to make sure they get this right.