Bipartisan Senate Bill Seeks to Resuscitate Once-Leading U.S. Patent System

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) / Getty

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A new bipartisan Senate bill introduced on Wednesday seeks to reinvigorate the ailing U.S. patent system through a series of reforms and by supporting American investors and innovators.

The STRONGER (Support Technology & Research for Our Nation's Growth and Economic Resilience) Act is meant to reform and strengthen the American patent system. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Sens. Chris Coons (D., Del.), Tom Cotton (R., Ak.), Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), and Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii).

The legislation builds on the last congressional session's STRONG Patents Act, which was sponsored by all of the aforementioned lawmakers, as well as now-retired Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.).

"Supporting American inventors is not a partisan issue.  The value and importance of patents is astounding, contributing over $800 billion in value to the U.S. economy and the source of millions of jobs for Americans," Coons, the bill's author, said in a statement.

"But, we must work together to ensure that the patent laws keep up with the innovators, so their ideas and businesses can fuel the American economy for generations to come," Coons added. "This means working to ensure that a patent continues to play its historic role in enabling inventors and small businesses to get funding and protect their ideas from being copied by larger corporate infringers. It is in our best interest both nationally and globally to ensure that our patent system works for everyone."

The U.S. patent system has been substantially weakened over the past decade, according to a fact sheet from Coons' office. In 2017, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked the patent system 10th worldwide; prior to this year, it was always first.

Justifying the ranking, the chamber listed several reasons, including narrow interpretation of patentability of biotech and computer innovation, as well as "inconsistent" enforcement of intellectual property rights against piracy.

The possible economic impact of a weakened U.S. patent system is substantial. Patent-intensive industries create higher-wage jobs, and about $85 billion in trade surplus is attributable to intellectual property right licensing.

The STRONGER Act endeavors to reverse this decline in quality through reforming the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) administrative review procedures, helping universities and small businesses access the patent system, and making sure the PTO is maximally effective at collecting fees.

The act, if signed into law, would also work to streamline the process of creating licensing agreements without going to court by making clear that patents are property rights, and enforceable as such.

"Strong rights in property—whether intellectual or tangible—have been a key driver behind U.S. economic might," Cotton said in a statement. "Eroding such rights would imperil innovation and job growth, so we need to maintain strong patent protections if we want our economy to grow at full speed."

"I'm glad to see my colleagues from both sides of the aisle understand just how important patent rights are to our future," Cotton continued. "And I believe this bill will make sure intellectual-property rights are treated with the same respect as all our other rights."

The bill has already earned support among conservative organizations, including the American Conservative Union, Conservatives for Property Rights, Eagle Forum, and Americans for Limited Government. Charles Sauer, president of the free-market focused Market Institute, authored an op-ed on Wednesday in which he wrote that the bill will "defend and maintain the innovation economy."

Charles Fain Lehman

Charles Fain Lehman   Email Charles | Full Bio | RSS
Charles Fain Lehman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He writes about policy, covering crime, law, drugs, immigration, and social issues. Reach him on twitter (@CharlesFLehman) or by email at lehman@freebeacon.com.

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