It is becoming very tiresome to listen to companies complain about patents while making wild, misleading, egregiously false claims of patent abuse. I realize making fraudulent claims of patent abuse captures headlines, the attention of the popular press, and interest from at as least some Members of Congress who seem hell-bent on enacting the patent agenda of the infringer lobby. As it turns out, however, patents are not the root of every evil in the world, and just because some misguided, uninformed CEO thinks patents are the problem doesn’t mean that they actually are the problem.
Increasingly, the target of those seeking to mislead through PR subterfuge are what are known as standard essential patents (SEPs). The complaints about standard essential patents are never really about patents at all . Of course, that doesn’t stop those who have made a career out of vilifying patent owners, and patents in general, from going to a very old, tired playbook in an effort to deceive. Still, no matter how much they want to pretend that their grievance is about patents, no matter how much they call the problem one of patent abuse, it will never change the truth.
So let’s shine a spotlight on the truth.
On April 20, 2017, a group of auto and technology companies sent a letter to President Trump urging him to direct the Federal Trade Commission and other U.S. agencies to do something “to address patent abuse involving standardized technologies,” which the letter goes on to explain are vital to the “nation’s innovation and economic development.”
To be perfectly clear, there is NO patent abuse occurring with respect standard setting or standard essential patents. Anyone who says otherwise is either grossly misinformed or they have an agenda, plain and simple. There is absolutely NO patent abuse, period. Not even a smidgen.
So what is going on that has these companies all hot and bothered? These companies are complaining about a contract issue, nothing more. They merely parade their complaints around as patent abuse in an attempt to both deceive, and to make it more likely the government will want to step in and tip the balance with an agency finger on the scale. After all, if it were a private contract matter it would be much more difficult to get the federal government to pick a side. So the decision is made to grossly misrepresent the heart of the problem and pretend it is something that it is not.
“We are concerned that the entire concept of open standards could collapse if SEP abuse continues to proliferate, and we’re urging the White House to take this threat to innovation and the American economy seriously,” said App Association President Morgan Reed in a press release. “The letter’s signatories own more than 100,000 patents and believe strongly in the value of intellectual property, but the issue here is companies who voluntarily committed to license their patents under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms who are reneging on those promises.”
The salient point: Reed admits this issue has absolutely nothing to do with patents, but rather the claim is that certain companies who own patents “voluntarily committed to license their patents” and those companies are allegedly “reneging on those promises.” By his own admission this is NOT a patent problem — this is NOT a form of patent abuse.
Even if everything that is being said in this letter to the President and associated press release are true, patents are not the problem. Patents are simply not at the core of the grievance. Reneging on a promise is what Reed and his compatriots are complaining about, and that by definition is a contract issue not a patent issue.
At its core the grievance complained about and paraded around as patent abuse relates to a broken promise to license on certain terms, which is a contract matter, not a patent matter. Complaining about a patent abuse when by their own admission no such patent abuse has occurred is worse than just crying wolf. Such false claims do unnecessary harm to the U.S. economy because they continue to weaken patents, which drives investors away. Those making such idiotic claims MUST be ignored.
If those companies and industry groups that signed this letter sent to President Trump are really supportive of the U.S. intellectual property system, like they claim, and believe in the value of strong patents, as Reed suggests, they will stop lying about the genesis of their grievance. At a time when the U.S. is falling behind China in innovation, Chicken Little type claims of patent abuse must stop.