On Wednesday October 11, the acting Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), Joseph Matal, was the guest speaker at the Tampa Bay Inventors Council (TBIC) bi-monthly meeting. TBIC is a non-profit inventors group founded in 1983, similar to many other inventors groups nationwide that are run by and cater to independent inventors. Clubs like the TBIC provide help, advice, camaraderie and networking for independent inventors and early stage startups in every aspect of invention, licensing and commercialization of their startup businesses including patenting, prototyping, manufacturing, marketing, sales, funding and more.
During the protest organized by US Inventor in August that included patent burning on the front steps of the Patent and Trademark Office, Joe Matal walked through the protesters to listen to their concerns. As a result, Randy Landreneau invited Mr. Matal to visit TBIC in Tampa to hear from inventors. Randy is a Board Member of US Inventor, and a former President and current Board Member of TBIC. Joe Matal accepted the invitation and came to the TBIC meeting this week.
Given the damage done to independent inventors by the creation of the PTAB, under the America Invents Act, a law Mr. Matal was closely involved in writing and passing, It certainly took courage for Mr. Matal to attend. In fact, the damage caused by the PTAB was the focus of the protest, and is of great concern to independent inventors and early-stage investors nationwide because of the alarming rate at which it is invalidating patents.
Mr. Matal opened his discussion stating his belief that independent inventors are the lifeblood of American innovation. He said that a patent is a property right and that whether an inventor actually manufactures the invention or seeks to license it, the rights provided by the patent should be the same. Having said this, he still believes that the PTAB should be able to invalidate a patent, but he did say that it is definitely time to look at the PTAB closely and see what can be done to make it operate more fairly. While he reiterated several times he is only acting and a permanent replacement has been nominated, he said that he would be surprised if this didn’t happen.
Wayne Rasanen, President of TBIC, provided several questions that inventor clubs in Minnesota, California, Nevada and Kansas as well as the United Inventors Association had sent in to be asked. The ensuing discussion covered all the subjects that you would expect and some unexpected subjects. Throughout this exchange, Mr. Matal purveyed a very strong sense that the current Administration is aware that things are not as they should be, that this is affecting American innovation and startups, and that things are underway to improve the situation.
When the floor was opened up to questions, there were several stories from the audience of being infringed by Chinese companies, and of that infringement being facilitated by online companies like AliBaba. Mr. Matal said “it kills us to see a small inventor being ripped off.” He said that the current Administration has a 301 investigation underway regarding China and various abuses of American intellectual property rights. He couldn’t provide any details because it is an ongoing investigation, but the inference was that something will be done that will help us.
One inventor had been subjected to multiple PTAB reviews. The PTAB is a review of patentability and because his patents were not being asserted for infringement, there is no possible return to pay attorneys to assist with the PTAB review. This left the inventor helpless and without legal representation.
Another inventor discussed how the high likelihood of invalidation was making it much harder to attract investment, and without investment it is nearly impossible to startup up a company to commercialize the invention or to license it. He stated that inventors could do other activities like spend more time with their families or golfing if there is no way to get a return for their hard work and personal investment.
Mr. Matal encouraged independent inventors to engage with their elected representatives and push their message because they are the key to real innovation and the positive economic results that follow. He stated that congress is listening and they are all very concerned with keeping America innovative and competitive.
The inventors present at this meeting definitely left with the feeling that things are moving in the right direction for independent inventors and early-stage investors, and with a much stronger faith that the Patent and Trademark Office has their interests at heart.
We would like to publicly thank Mr. Matal for coming to meet with inventors and providing a message of hope.