Is the third time (to Congress) the charm?

Late last year, I was hoping to get a few folks in Congress to think about the issue of patent reform.  With this third trip to DC, I’ve communicated directly to the offices of about seventy Congressional representatives about HR-9, the Innovation Act.  I remember earlier this year, wondering about what it would be like to speak in front of a group of lawmakers, but now, finishing my third trip to Capitol Hill, it’s starting to feel routine!

On July 23, 2015, I met individually with the following congressional offices:

In addition, I missed a meeting with Rep. Calvert (R-CA), because of a schedule conflict. In full disclosure, I actually met with a staffer of each office.  As I mentioned in previous postings, the staff were smart, courteous and attentive.  Virtually across the board, the offices recognized that SOMETHING had to be done about the current problem of patent abuse, but that they couldn’t ignore powerful lobbies of Universities, Pharmaceutical and Biotech industries who were concerned about changing the status quo.  We met in small offices, and even the hallway for one meeting, starting at 9 AM and going until 5.

The highlight of the day was the House Judiciary Committee briefing, where I participated as a panel member, along with two others.  It was a two part briefing, hosted by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), and emceed by Vishal Amin, Counsel for the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.  Vishal us the actual author of the HR-9 bill, and I had met him during my visit to Capitol Hill in May.   Vishal introduced Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle Lee who presented for the first part of the briefing. Former Senior Counsel at Google, President Obama appointed her to the position as head of USPTO about 10 months ago in an effort to begin some of the necessary changes in leadership, policy and execution at the widely-criticized agency.  As she made her way around the room, she came to me, and we had a brief introduction.  She is a strong supporter of HR-9, the Innovation Act.  Frankly, that’s no surprise, and here’s why.

The USPTO got into a real pickle in the late 90s and early 00s with new computer related patents.  Most of us who are old enough will remember the craziness of the dot-com boom.  People were trying to do new things on the web, ANYTHING they could, as fast as possible. Web-based email was new.  Online storage was new.  Even online storefronts like Amazon and Ebay were just starting to become familiar, with more businesses coming online every week.  Investors were throwing money at anyone with a website, and business people and software developers were creating new things that had never been done online before.   Along with the dot-com was the “do-it-on-a-computer-patent-boom”.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry was filing a new patent for a process that had been done bfore, but never been done ON A COMPUTER before.  In response to the rapid inflow of computer-related patents, the USPTO, lacking sufficient experience and expertise in the fast-changing area of computer technology wound up approving thousands of simplistic patents just because the described processes had never been patented in the context of “doing it on a computer”. Today we’re left with a legacy of incredibly weak patents from the 90s and 00s which frankly, NEVER should have been issued.  I think that Michelle knows it will take a LONG, LONG time and a LOT of manpower at the USPTO to ultimately get these bad patents out of the system.  And so I think she sensibly appeals to the Congressional initiative to discourage patent trolls which is HR-9, The Innovation Act.  The reforms are designed to work in concert: Lee’s reforms at the USPTO aim to reduce or eliminate NEW bad patents from getting into the system; and the Innovation Act will make it harder for bad actors to abuse EXISTING bad patents by turning them against businesses.

Lee encouraged questions from the audience of about 60 staffers.  Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), a sponsor of the bill, was also present and contributed to both questions and answers.  I wish Ms. Lee and Rep. Issa success in their efforts and I hope everyone will support them.

After the Q&A was over, the second part of the briefing began.  Three panel members, including myself convened.  The first member was Krish Gupta, Senior Vice President and Deputy Counsel at EMC, a cloud-storage technology company.  I was the second. and Professor Robin Feldman from University of California Hastings College of Law rounded out the panel.  Each of us spoke for about five minutes and then took questions and answers.  I told my story, which felt like the hundreth time, but this time in front of the largest group of Congressional staff that I had ever addressed.  There was lots of interest from the audience, moreso than at the previous briefings, and I got a positive feeling from the discussion that ensued.

On a local note, I spoke with two Congressmen from my state, Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Joe Courtney (D-CT).  Even though I was not from their districts, they were both extremely inviting and strongly behind the changes so desperately needed in our patent laws.  It felt good to have such strong support from some of my local representatives.

In closing, I ask for your support.  One of the things I have learned this year is that getting a bill passed is very much a ground game.  If the side of right isn’t actively and constantly communicating to their representatives, you can be sure the other side is.  If we think our message has been communicated and therefore sit quiet, opponents of patent reform are actively lobbying Congress, slowly chipping away at their resolve, planting seeds of doubt and plenty of misinformation.  Please take five minutes and use this link to Contact Your Congressmen in only 5 minutes.

To learn more about my story and how you can help, visit www.endpatentabuse.com

 

Back to Congress

It was an action-packed adventure in Washington with my son.  Lots of fun, definitely exciting, and best of all, everything went according to plan with no hiccups.

Back in May, I was invited to Washington DC by Application Developers Alliance to support Patent Reform initiatives in Congress.  As part of that event, I participated in the House Small Business Roundtable on Patents.  Other participants there included Engine and Consumer Electronics Association, along with trade associations for construction, retail and restaurants.  And three Congressmen presided.  But two of us weren’t from trade associations.  Todd Moore, who is an Arlington-based software developer, and I were small business owners, trying to make an honest living.  I could tell that he and I had the biggest impact on that meeting with the Congressmen because it was our personal stories.

(For more background info on my legal struggle against a patent troll and for how you help, visit http://www.endpatentabuse.com)

Apparently, both Engine and Consumer Electronics also felt our stories were compelling, because they invited us back for another session to meet with about 35 Congressmen, first individually with ten members, then within a larger briefing at the end of the day.

My son David had expressed an interest in coming and experiencing the day.  I told him he would  basically lay low and introduce himself, but then be an observer.  He thought that sounded reasonable and that the trip would be worthwhile.  Plus, who can resist 14 hours in the car with their awesome dad?

We set out early, leaving a little after 6 AM.  The trip was uneventful and we rolled into DC in the early afternoon.  After checking into our hotel, which was only four blocks from the White House, we set out on foot to see some quick touristy stuff.  The White House was first.  We passed a statue of Marquis de Lafayette and a protest group and joined the throng taking selfies.  Then, we walked to the Washington Monument

  

and up the Mall.  I hadn’t walked the Washington Mall in years, and I was surprised at how much it was torn up in the midst of construction.  Two-thirds of the Mall was like a battlefield, but a portion near the Capitol was in good shape.  We checked out the Air and Space Museum for a couple hours and then trudged two miles back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

In the morning, we successfully navigated the Metro to the Capitol South station (not a trivial task for a newbie), including passing a talented group of more than a dozen trombone players on the way.  Cool!

Consumer Electronics Association has a base of operations just about two blocks from the House office buildings, so we met there.  Todd Moore arrived shortly after me, and consultants and lobbyists from various groups trickled in.  I got to meet two other really great small business owners — well maybe not as small businesses as mine!  Kate Doerksen of online eyewear company Ditto, and Jeff Glueck of well-known Foursquare. All three of the business owners were super-smart, hard working, and really nice people.  And all of them, like me, had a huge negative experience with a patent troll.

We went largely as a group, throughout the day where we met with Congressional Members and Staffers.  We met with the following Members of Congress or their staff:

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY)
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rules Committee
Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT)
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

I won’t go over each meeting or individual reactions, but here are my takeaways from the meetings.  First, they do acknowledge abuse of the patent system has on small businesses.  That’s the good news.  Unfortunately, the other side has muddled the issue and made certain members worried about changing the patent system.  Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries along with Universities have for some reason taken the position against this legislation to help protect small businesses.  The funny thing is that the proposed legislation would not weaken the intellectual property rights of legitimate innovation.  This bill is to remove the financial incentives to abuse our patent system.  It is to protect small businesses, and it’s very limited in scope that I don’t think it would have a negative effect on those type of big businesses.  In fact, I believe that this legislation will actually strengthen our system by cleaning up the scourge of bad patents and patent abuse that have cast a negative light on the entire US patent system.

The consensus is that the House bill will pass, but not by a wide margin as Biotech, Pharma and Universities are pushing hard to maintain the status quo, even at the expense of small business.  I guess Macchiavelli had it right when he wrote: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate change.  For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old way, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new way.”  And then there’s the Senate bill, which is a whole other thing, but one step at a time.

One highlight of the day meeting with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Republican from Texas), who strongly supports the legislation.  .  His meeting started with a lively photo op with the Congressman and plenty of friendly banter.  When I went to take my picture with him, he yanked the water bottle which was sticking out of my pocket.  Throwing it to the side, he said “you don’t want that in the picture” and my son and I quickly posed for the picture with him.

Another highlight was meeting with Freshman Congressman Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).  At just 35 years old, he is one of the ten youngest members of Congress.  Tech-savvy and approachable, Ruben brings a new perspective that understands some of the newer issues, including how tech industries really suffer at the hands of patent abusers, hence the need for patent reform.

Mid-day, I received a healthy a dose of drama from the pro-troll camp that doesn’t want to lose their gravy train.  On Twitter, one opponent equated my activities on Capitol Hill to “working against  the cure for breast cancer and childhood leukemia by killing patents.”  He ended his Tweet with the oh-so-classy “WTF?”  I guess if you want to fight for change, you had better be prepared for a little mud to be slung.  I think it’s pretty transparent though. This is the type of people we’re fighting against.

Finally, it was off to the Energy and Commerce Briefing at 4:00 PM, where the four business owners would present our stories to staffers representing 25 Congressmen.

House_And_Energy_Briefing

We were in a larger room this time with our table facing the audience.  It was the last meeting of the day, and I presented my story with a little extra passion.  The audience actively listened, and there were some good followup questions.

I hope they do what needs to be done, and that they don’t cave to the big industries that frankly won’t even be affected.  The only ones that will suffer will be the abusers of our patent system.  Stay tuned!