Pro-patent Partnership for American Innovation lobby wobbles on take-off

This new pro-patent business consortium may boast some of industry's heaviest hitters — Apple, GE, IBM, and Microsoft — but it really doesn't have much of a message.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Many of us in technology circles take a rather jaundiced view of patents, especially software, genetic, drug, and business methods patents. That hasn't stopped some of the business world's biggest companies, such as Apple, Ford, GE, IBM, and Microsoft form launching a new pro-patent lobbying group, Partnership for American Innovation (PAI).

Partnership for American Innovation
The Partnership for American Innovation image looks nice but behind this pro-patent group there's little of substance.

This newly formed group proclaims that "Protecting intellectual property [IP] is essential to America’s ability to compete in markets around the world, America’s economic growth, and American jobs. Innovative companies in the US must be able to protect their investments in cutting-edge research and development to maintain America’s economic leadership."

Specifically, PAI's members are committed to the following principles:

  • The American economy is best served by a strong patent system that protects high-quality innovation in all fields of technology.
  • It is critical to our global economy that IP is respected by all participants in the system.
  • The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) must be properly funded to efficiently and effectively process patent applications and issue only high-quality patents.

Again, that sounds good, but what does it really mean? If you look through the site, you'll find little in the way of recommendations and not even really that much in the way of rhetoric.

In a statement from PAI, via Waggener Edstrom, best known as Microsoft's public relations firm, a spokesperson said, “PAI is focused on promoting a climate for technology innovation and respect for intellectual property. The group wants to ensure policymakers and the public are aware of the value of IP to innovators, job creators and the economy — especially during a time when many across the country, such as the Courts, Congress and the Administration, are debating changes to the patent system. It’s important that everyone understands how innovation is a key driver in our nation’s success, that patents promote invention, and that in order for America to remain a global leader in the innovation economy we need to maintain a strong patent system. PAI hopes to accomplish this by telling the story of IP’s impact around the country through expert panels, town halls and other events. The group will also use research to connect IP to local jobs and influence regulatory reform proposals by participating in comment periods as a group."

Pretty foggy on the details isn't it?

Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, a founding partner of Gesmer Updegrove, a Boston-based top technology law firm asks how seriously anyone should take this announcement. "Companies get together all the time to stand up a site like this, while in fact there is little actual commitment behind it, nor much by way of real plans to do anything with it."

Updegrove continued, "Certainly that's what it looks like here — just a very short press release, without the usual individual quote from each founding member. Instead, there's a twitter stream with 19 tweets. After the home page and the press release, there's just a contact form and an "About" section, and David Kappos' (Former USPTO Director David Kappos, now a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and PAI's senior advisor) bio page is longer than the rest of the parts of the About section put together. There's not even a real 'call to action' — no invitation to become a member or get involved. All that it says above the contact form is 'We would love to hear from you. Please submit this form and we will be in touch shortly.' That's a pretty thin effort, and it's hard to take something seriously that even the founders don't seem to have paid much attention to."

Updegrove's take is that "this looks like one of the many, many, lobbying-related, lightweight platforms that companies set up all the time just to host their messaging, something that stands more as a memorial to the fact that a group of companies have together agreed upon a joint set of talking points that they'll be carrying up the Hill. I expect that whether you come back to this site a month or a year from now that you won't find that it's expanded very meaningfully at all."

He's not the only one who doesn't see much here. John Ferrell, co-founding partner of Carr & Ferrel LLP, one of Silicon Valley's foremost technology law firms, commented, "These big PAI Companies have a lot invested in maintaining a strong patent system, and as large organizations have inertia that would be difficult to redirect if the current patent system is modified. Changing the patent system represents a significant risk, and business abhors risk."

Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) a patent reform group,, takes a far more cynical view of PAI. "C'mon, man, totally legit org. Not at all a pop-up org to affect litigation. Nah." He also asked if we'll "'respect IP' when it's held by foreign companies and being used to shut down American 'infringers?' We're already at the point that the majority of
all U.S. patent applications are filed by foreign companies"

So, while the current patent troll environment — 55 percent of all patent lawsuits are made by trolls — can cost big companies money, it's also a threat they already know. Indeed, even the seemingly eternal global patent war between Apple and Samsung continues to waste hundreds of millions of dollars, it's a battlefield the major companies know well. The PAI companies, it seems, would rather keep fighting the battles they know rather than taking a chance on bringing IP peace to the business world.

Comment by Ravicher added after initial publication. 

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