Protect our Inventors
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Posted by: Maria Thacker
Recently, it became easier for Georgia's inventors to protect their creations from intellectual property thieves. In February, the U.S.Patent and Trademark Office rolled out "Georgia Patents," a statewide program that matches low-income innovators with Pro Bono patent lawyers.
Unfortunately, Georgia Patents has arrived at a time when intellectual property is under threat. Congress is currently considering patent law changes that would make it more difficult for even deep-pocketed innovators to protect their inventions.
By stifling innovation, the measure would do serious harm to the state economy and hamper advancements in areas like medical research.
Ingenuity is the lifeblood of Georgia's economy. In the last decade, Georgia has seen the nation's second-largest growth in entrepreneurial activity, according to the Kauffmann Foundation. Inc. magazine ranks Atlanta among the nation's top 20 most-innovative cities in the country.
In 2013, Georgia inventors received more than 2,500 patents -- up from 2,128 the year before. Such ingenuity is a key reason Georgia enjoyed the nation's sixth-highest job rate growth last year.
But the innovation that drives Georgia's economy may not hold out for much longer if Congress moves forward with its proposed patent overhaul. Known as the Innovation Act, the legislation would make it harder for inventors to protect patents in court.
Since 2012, a new extrajudicial review board has invalidated so many patents that one federal judge has called it a patent "death squad." That wasn't lawmakers' intent when they created the board, which was
supposed to reduce legal costs by resolving patent disputes through arbitration.
If companies aren't confident the board will uphold patents -- their source of revenue -- they may reduce research and development funding for new products. Particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, strong patents are essential for inducing R&D investment.
Under the proposed Innovation Act, patent holders would face a host of new filing requirements, a change that would add cost and risk to the process of filing a lawsuit to protect one's patent. The Act would also leave many patent-holders on the hook for their opponent's attorney fees in the event the court sides with the alleged patent infringer.
These and other provisions would discourage innovators from protecting their intellectual property in court. In so doing, the Innovation Act would diminish incentives for individuals and firms to invest in breakthrough research in fields ranging from manufacturing to aerospace and medicine.
Consider the life sciences industry, which supports more than 65,000 jobs in Georgia. Developing a new prescription drug costs, on average, more than $2.5 billion over the course of a decade, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.
Patents make this enormous upfront investment worthwhile because they prevent rival firms from copying a research firm's drug design. By giving innovators the exclusive right to own and sell their creations, patents encourage companies to spend money creating new products.
The Innovation Act would undermine the ingenuity that powers Georgia' economy. Georgia's leaders should oppose the law.
C. Russell Allen, president and CEO of Georgia Bio, is chairman of the Council of State Bioscience Associations.
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