Every industry has its share of specific problems. Major League Baseball deals with steroids, the entertainment industry must combat pirates, and the post office has to deal with an image problem. But sometimes there are concerns that sweep across multiple industries, and that is when America begins to take note. Gas prices, for example, have a huge impact on the cost of everything from shipping a package to buying groceries.
And now, it seems, problems with patent laws are beginning to touch just about every industry out there. Long gone are the days when supermarket and restaurant owners could read about the problems that tech companies were having with patent trolls and smile because it wasn’t their problem. The fact of the matter is, the current state of the patent system in this country is having a profound impact on all facets of the economy, and business owners have decided to voice their concerns.
The clearest sign that businesses in the retail, hospitality and other spaces are concerned with patent law came in a letter to Congress. The letter, which was also signed by high-tech lobbying groups that have been active on the issue of patent reform for a while, included support from supermarkets, restaurants, airlines, printers and casinos.
The letter had some specific demands for Congress, asking them to expand the covered business method program, allowing for faster decisions on patent challenges brought to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Some large high-tech companies fear the expansion of the CBM program, believing that it would hamper their ability to enforce the rights of their own legitimate patents.
But, the letter argues, "companies need an effective alternative for challenging validity [of patents] outside of the courtroom." It further praises the CBM, stating that the program "gives threatened companies a substantially less expensive way to challenge low quality patents. Other programs for challenging patent validity at the PTO do not allow the PTO to consider whether the patent is abstract, vague, or too broad.”
Now that frivolous lawsuits are trickling downstream, targeting businesses like hotels, casinos and supermarkets, the swell of support for patent reform has grown. Whether the solution lies in CBM expansion or other proposed reforms to the patent system remains to be seen, but it seems as if we have reached a tipping point on this issue, as it has gone beyond a niche problem to be a real concern for businesses in all industries. That, at least, should cause Congress to take notice – and perhaps action.