WSJ’s Gordon Crovitz Veers Off Course on Intellectual Property Rights
Each Monday, The Wall Street Journal’s “Information Age” column by L. Gordon Crovitz is a must-read. His analyses are invariably intelligent and his policy positions are usually wise.
On intellectual property (IP), however, Crovitz occasionally hits discordant notes. Unfortunately, this week provided another example.
In “Even Silicon Valley Tilts Republican,” he highlights the surprising news that this year, technology companies reversed tradition and gave 52% of their political contributions to Republicans. He also touches upon the topic of patent law reform, which CFIF has broadly supported. But then he veers off logical course by maligning patent rights, specifically with regard to software patents:
Patents make little sense for software, which almost always builds on an earlier work. There are some 250,000 potential patent violations in smartphones alone. Companies known as ‘patent trolls’ stockpile patents to extract huge settlements from technology companies, not to build products. Plaintiff lawyers joke that their focus has gone from ‘PI to IP.’ Now that personal-injury litigation has been reformed in many states, they’re turning to intellectual property lawsuits such as patent infringement.”
It’s difficult to fathom how Crovitz continues to make such a claim.
The United States maintains by many measures the world’s strongest patent and IP protections. It also leads the world in technological innovation, including software and smartphones. That’s not coincidence. It’s cause-and-effect. In an excellent recent piece for IPWatchdog.com, patent attorney Gene Quinn offers a superior analysis on IP rights and innovation in such areas:
Why will anyone invest the extraordinary sums of money to create the innovations we want without an expectation of exclusivity that will allow for a recoupment of the investment plus a reasonable return on investment? ‘The Truly Staggering Cost of Inventing New Drugs unveils a Forbes study finding: ‘The average drug developed by a major pharmaceutical company costs at least $4 billion, and it can be as much as $11 billion.’ And it is pure fiction to believe that software development doesn’t follow the same economic realities. When IBM produces one of their large-scale projects, there will have been many hundreds of people working on the software solution for at least several years. The same is true for a new Apple operating system, or the next version of Microsoft Windows. It is pure fantasy to believe that software programs are written over a long weekend by a single person who is merely a second-year engineering student. Software that is compatible, secure and actually works is rare these days, and takes real development effort, which costs real sums of money. The quickest way to get less innovation is to destroy the patent system.”
Quinn is correct, and the real-world facts speak for themselves. Strong patent protections spur the innovation for which America and its tech sector are known. Moreover, there isn’t anything inherently wrong if a patent holder with no ability or intention of manufacturing or marketing an invention sues for violation. A patent right is simply a property right enforceable by law, just as a songwriter can rightfully sue for infringement even if he or she didn’t have the ability to sing the song, assemble a band, reserve a recording studio or find an agent.
That obviously doesn’t mean that we should in any way condone the filing of frivolous lawsuits based upon false claims of patent infringement. But it does mean that much of the “patent troll” problem can be resolved via litigation reform, such as requiring greater specificity in court pleadings and shifting of attorneys’ fees and costs to more of a “loser pays” system.
What we don’t want to do is demonize patent rights, which have been the foundation for American innovation through the decades and centuries.