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



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