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Technology patent wars sign of robust innovation

Kenneth Corbin | May 18, 2012
The head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tells a congressional panel that the landmark reform bill signed last September is already yielding significant results, but defends litigation in tech sector as a sign of vigorous innovation.

Additionally, in an effort to decentralize the domestic operations of the U.S. PTO, the bill authorized the agency to open satellite offices around the country. Kappos said that the first U.S. PTO satellite office is slated to open in Detroit in July, and the agency is currently entertaining proposals for where to stand up two additional offices.

Certain provisions in the patent reform bill were also aimed at curbing frivolous lawsuits brought by so-called non-practicing entities, often known as patent trolls, a derisive term referring to individuals or organizations who seek to exercise their patent rights to win monetary damages through lawsuits against alleged infringers, rather than using the intellectual property to bring a product to market.

This is a particularly common practice in the tech sector, but Kappos, asked about what some have described as excessive litigation, drew a distinction between the activity of patent trolls and the lawsuits that legitimate companies have brought against one another, particularly in the segment of mobile devices.

"I don't think there is any reason to believe that either copyright or patent lawsuits of the kind that we're seeing in the so-called smartphone wars are a sign of stifling technological innovation. In fact, much to the contrary, we've seen this movie before. We've seen this movie many times before," Kappos said.

"It starts with fundamental technological innovation that's transformative in nature, then others come along and want to do incremental innovation on top of it," he said. "The original innovators -- let's say the Apples of the world as an example -- companies that everyone would say have made transformative changes in our lives, have intellectual property positions resulting from massive investments. They seek to enforce those positions, level the playing field in some way, and you have a dust-up like we're seeing right now. I do not believe that it's a sign that there's anything at all wrong with the innovation environment in the U.S. In fact, I think it's a byproduct of a very healthy overall innovation environment. These things happen. They sort themselves out."


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