In my 54 years, I’ve never protested anything. I’ve complained to my friends and family and sometimes to a few unfortunate strangers. So this has been the first time publicly protesting anything for me. It’s also the first time for Adrian Pelkus, who has joined the US Inventor Board of Directors and most of inventors who joined us from the San Diego Inventors Forum.
It’s a weird feeling holding a sign, waving, smiling and chanting as cars drive by. Many honked and waved back, gave us a thumbs up or yelled their support out the window. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who took the time to stop and ask us questions. I think that many people are curious because our issue is unique. It’s not abortion, or trade, or emails, or sex or ISIS, or Russia. It’s much more interesting than all of that. Our issue is patent protections for small inventors and startups – the stuff that drives new technologies and creates most of our new jobs.
We started a month ago in the district of Congressman Darrell Issa. Initially, Issa’s campaign schedule was posted on his Facebook page so it was fairly easy to find places to politely hold our signs.
Strangely, after our second event, Issa no longer published his schedule. But maybe we should have expected that. After all, he didn’t allow any inventor to testify in any hearings related to the Innovation Act or, for that matter, any other patent reform legislation. I really don’t know the last time an inventor who puts food on her table with patented inventions testified in congress. Issa hid his schedule so it is clear that he really doesn’t want the public to know what damage his legislation has done to our nation’s job creation engine.
What’s really unfortunate about Issa blocking inventor input, is that this legislation effects inventors and early stage startup more than any other group. The effects of the America Invents Act has laid inventors and startups to waste as a result. That’s no small issue economically speaking. With the large majority of our new job creation as a result of inventors and startups, weakening the patent system will negatively affect every American. Today a huge portion of the products we buy are made in China. Soon they will be invented there too.
I’ve spent this year visiting inventor clubs educating inventors about how congress, the courts and the administration has damaged their patent rights and about the very real damage coming from the Innovation Act. This has brought many opportunities to meet inventors and understand what bad patent reforms have actually done at the street level.
Weak patent rights have repositioned inventors from the creative genius behind new stuff to the unwitting market proving grounds for large multinational corporations who steal inventions once the inventor proves the invention is marketable.
Here are some examples. I met several inventors who ran successful Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns. Each generated hundreds of thousands of dollars from these campaigns and used that money to kick off or expand their companies.
One inventor’s Kickstarter campaign generated a licensing deal with a manufacturer that is currently commercializing it. That is a big win for a little guy. Within six months of his Kickstarter campaign, he was knocked off by a company that very likely was monitoring Kickstarter and saw his successful campaign. He contacted the infringer and has been forced to defend his patent rights in court. As is now the case in defending patent rights, he was pommeled with PTAB procedures. Now he lives his life visiting lawyer’s offices and courtrooms trying to prove again that his patents are valid. The PTAB death squads have cost him everything he made on his Kickstarter campaign, his licensing and much more. He is actually losing money just because he invented something that people want to buy and others want to steal.
Another inventor is a third generation inventor who commercialized his dad’s invention building a small company with a few employees. Then he ran a successful Kickstarter campaign only to get knocked off by a Chinese company that just copied his whole company, product, brand and all. His product brings in just enough revenue to support a few employees and his family, but it is not a big enough market to justify spending the huge dollars necessary to defend patents in court. Regardless, the Chinese knock off is severely damaging his company and threatening its very existence. There is another I met with the same basic story, but worse – this inventor is getting complaints filed against his company including a potential lawsuit based on poor product quality even though the product was not sold by him. It was knocked off without his permission by a Chinese company who stole his company’s entire identity, his marketing documents, his inventions, his brand and everything else. The only thing that is different is the bank account and, of course, the quality of his product.
Unscrupulous companies both here and in China are watching Kickstarter and plucking the winners to knock them off. The oddly named American Invents Act is largely responsible for this mess because patents can no longer be reasonably enforced. The best products are now just stolen and knocked off, sometimes the entire company is knocked off. Weak patents are worthless patents for small inventors and startups.
Darrell Issa was a cosponsor and a major political driver of this startup killing legislation, which is why inventors are going to his events to educate him and his potential voters. Issa’s race is very close with some polls showing him down by several points. His competitor believes in strong patents. This draws a clear distinction between the candidates and inventors and startups in California’s 49th district want to be represented by someone who will preserve their rights, and their companies.
Last Saturday, we met up at Issa’s office in Vista, CA. We brought our signs and protested for an hour in front of his office while we attached banners and balloons to our vehicles. Then we took a nice slow drive across his district honking and generating as much attention as possible from the 60,000 or so people we drove by.
This election is far too volatile to predict, but Issa needs a new job. If he keeps his, we will all lose our jobs.