American manufacturers need patent protection, but they don’t need bad actors trying to extort money from them by filing bogus patent infringement lawsuits. This is why, as the owner of a small, innovative manufacturing company that has been stranded on the front lines of two medical crises – first, the AIDS epidemic and now the COVID-19 pandemic – I support a new bill in Congress to curb the destructive tactics of patent trolls.
When the AIDS epidemic hit, it became evident that dentists like my boss at the time needed better personal protective equipment to protect both patients and caregivers from the disease. As a single mother in the 1980s, it was difficult to get a loan from the Small Business Administration to start making protective gear. The system was clearly not in place for people like me, even to the extent that a woman’s candidacy required a spouse’s signature!
But I persevered, and today I am the president of the company I founded, ProSafe Products in Grand Junction. We are experts in the engineering, manufacturing, inspection and packaging of the highest quality products for the medical, dental and dialysis industries. During the height of COVID, our company had some of the most effective products available then and was the only source that American caregivers and patients could turn to for them.
Companies like mine deserve to have their innovative designs protected by patents. But patents can also be misused to take advantage of manufacturers. In fact, very unfortunately, there is an active industry made up of companies known as Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs), or patent trolls, that exist purely for the purpose of making money from claims. for patent infringement.
These shell companies do not produce any products or offer any services, but clutter the courts with baseless patent lawsuits. They hope to get a monetary settlement for their targets – legitimate businesses that actually contribute to the economy. Even if no one wants to settle, companies frequently do so to avoid the expense and wasted resources of mounting a legal defense. On average, patent lawsuits last five years and cost over $ 5 million in legal fees.
Patent trolls are a growing problem. Patent litigation increased by more than 43% between the first quarter of 2020 and 2021, with frivolous and unfounded claims by patent trolls making up the majority of such lawsuits. Their victims range from large tech and pharmaceutical companies to small manufacturers like me.
I am so concerned about patent trolls that I have joined the US-MADE coalition to work with other manufacturers on this issue. It is an organization specifically focused on protecting US manufacturers from frivolous patent litigation.
A promising new development is the recent introduction of the bipartisan Restoreing the America Invents Act (RAIA), which would reaffirm the benefits of a previous law that was made less effective by counterproductive actions by the US Office. of Patents and Trademarks (USPTO) in the previous administration.
Ten years ago, Congress passed the America Invents Act (AIA). It worked, successfully improving the quality of patents (far too many patents hijacked by patent trolls should never have been granted in the first place) and allowing legitimate U.S. employers to better defend themselves against unscrupulous lawsuits. . Abusive patent litigation has been dropped thanks to better access to a post-grant review process put in place by the AIA.
But since its passage, the AIA has been weakened by revisions to USPTO rules that go against the intent of Congress and the law. Their one-sided changes made it harder for manufacturers to challenge bad patents that should never have been granted in the first place, resulting in the highest number of patent lawsuits filed against manufacturers in years. The RAIA, if passed, would restore AIA protections to manufacturers and help curb patent troll activity. Congress must act urgently.
Manufacturing in the United States is the lifeblood of our nation’s economy and vital to communities across Colorado and nationwide. Let’s keep it that way.
Laura Bradford is the founder of ProSafe Products and has been Mesa County’s premier small business tenant “Incubator.“ She was vso-director of the state of women‘Economic Development Council and represented House Quartier 55 at the Colorado General Assembly from 2009 to 2013.