Corporate America Should Brace for a Weaker Patent System

Big companies may not like it, but U.S. legislation aimed at patent trolls is part of a broader movement toward reform.


Well, at least the U.S. Congress can agree on something. Late last year the House of Representatives passed the Innovation Act, which takes aim at patent trolls, companies that collect patents and sue other businesses for infringement. Despite delays, the antitroll legislation is now making its way through the Senate.

Against this legal backdrop, seven U.S. corporate giants, including Apple, Ford Motor Co., General Electric Co. and Pfizer, recently formed the Partnership for American Innovation, a lobby group that seeks to protect intellectual property by promoting the existing patent system. “I think they are worried about broad-reaching legislation that could reduce the value of patents,” says Rutgers University law professor Michael Carrier. New laws targeting patent trolls could be used against big companies too, he explains: “If they lose patent infringement litigation, they might be on the hook for attorneys’ fees.”

Looking beyond the troll issue, calls for reform also stem from the strength of the U.S. patent system, Carrier adds. The Supreme Court, which has heard multiple patent cases this term, has made it easier to award lawyers’ fees, he says. “There has been such criticism of the patent system in the past several years that it’s more likely that the system will grow at least marginally weaker in the next few years.” • •

Get more of corporations.