Why Patent Reform in the United States Matters for Tech Companies
With a global audience for tech and internet products, it’s easy to overlook the importance that one country can have on the development of future technologies, and their sales, but it’s the United States’ patent systems that are actually contributing to some of the hold back that we’re facing in tech right now. It’s not without notice, either. Legislators have been working throughout the past few decades to reform how patent laws work, how they extend, and what companies can do when facing internet patent lawsuit “trolls,” which exist solely to sue businesses that use vaguely similar technologies to patents that they or their clients hold.
A Remedy for Trolls
Patent lawsuits exist throughout every industry you can imagine, but they are especially prevalent in technology, where even something as seemingly innocuous as the way that a smartphone is shaped can trigger a potential lawsuit. For businesses that may just be starting out, and even for those who are considerable market forces, it can accrue massive costs over a very short period of time to have to deal with numerous patent suits. Even large companies go after one another on a regular basis. The Apple vs Samsung lawsuits have been some of the most public on record, but they are a fraction of the time, money, and effort that go into the defense of intellectual properties, real or imagined.
Some of the ways that the United States legal system has addressed these issues include:
- Better definition of patent processes centered on software, where vague functions come under fire quite often. With lawsuits filed for matters such as “streaming video services,” or “video rental services online,” it’s easy to see how these suits can begin to compound in the face of sites like Netflix, YouTube, and more. Patent trolls, especially those that are focused on software, will go after larger companies well after their profitability has been established with the hopes of seeking generous settlements.
- Harsher standards for patents, which also cuts down on the amount of patent trolling in all industries. Low quality patents are those which are vague, often on purpose, so that they can be used to file against virtually any similar-sounding software or hardware function. That market was actually quite substantial before these reforms, but it’s since died down, allowing for more development without the anxiety of being sued quite as readily.
Not All Good News
One considerable step backwards is the patent lifespan recommended in the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Patent lifespans are already of considerable length in the United States, with some 50 years after the creator’s death being considered legal for a patent’s enforcement. With the TPP, that could be extended to up to 125 years post-death. As a patent matter that affects every industry, especially technology and pharmaceuticals, there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure a more fluid environment for global development possibilities.