Our Constitution’s Article I reference to an inventor’s “exclusive rights” is not insignificant. It is the document’s sole reference to “rights” in its main body. It speaks to a source of property ownership that mattered deeply to our Founding Fathers. Influenced by the then-unconventional property theories of John Locke and having militarily rejected the King’s centuries-old sovereignty over all constituent property rights, the founders constitutionally rejected sovereign whim as the source of intellectual property rights. In his first State of the Union message, President Washington devoted considerable content to the economic importance of patents. Our patent system’s first Administrator was Thomas Jefferson. In our country’s earliest days patents were a top-of-mind civic issue. Today patent enthusiasm has retreated from civics’ front lines to the arcane redoubt of feuding practitioners, a smattering of abusive predators and the C-suites of digital platform mega-techs. Unless their constitutional origin and economic importance become better understood soon, US global leadership in the Information Age is doomed.
These are strong words. They are meant to be. Patents once were governmentally encouraged. For 200 plus years examiner conduct during patent prosecution more resembled midwifery than the adversarial preceding it has become. Applicants then were guided through eligibility’s statutory requirements of usefulness, novelty, and non-obviousness criteria. Later declared criteria judicially were applied during patent prosecution with predictability. The rejection was more like an invitation to try again, than the final result of judicial procedure. The right to obtain a patent could be waived or withdrawn by the applicant but never terminated by the PTO. Examiner workload, lax management, the complexities of digital and biologic technologies and pure politics have taken their toll on what was once a highly respected government service to our nation and its innovative citizenry. Today we are losing sight of patents’ substantial and significant role in the US innovation ecosystem. The new sovereignty established in our Constitution is being influenced by a self-serving segment of our IP community. Resultantly we are losing ground in the global race to maintain world innovational leadership.
The Revolutionary War’s battlefield promotion of property rights formerly bestowed by sovereign whim on the King’s cronies became constitutionally-established individual rights when the war ended. The King’s sovereignty was replaced by the more fragile but longer lasting new sovereignty of separated government split equally among its three branches and charged with preserving individual property ownership and the economic strength our founders knew it would impart. US sovereignty was created in our Constitution. Property protection was vested in the checks and balances provided by its three equal branches. Now that sovereignty is back-sliding to its pre-revolutionary war English ancestor not by restoring all property ownership to a royal monarchy but by enabling a cluster of powerful digital platforms to redefine patent property rights into something considerably less, called ” public rights.” The political battlefield’s demotion of patent property rights is occurring as US governing sovereignty is succumbing to a digital cabal of influencers whose powers of persuasion resemble the pre-revolutionary cronies of English potentates who once determined what was patentable and to whose charge they would be entrusted. Today’s crony controlled intellectual property law may be more nuanced, but it is no less effective. Digital economy titans are taking control by leveraging their overwhelming influence through their mastery of emerging technology; their overwhelming networked resources and their political power unleashed by the decision in Citizens United. They have cleverly contrived patent troll narrative they have directed the governmental sculpture of a new patent landscape where patent property has been devalued for everyone but themselves. The parlous results of their patent weakening influence on our constitutional sovereigns work are beginning to pile up.
Patent exclusivity rights have effectively been reserved to patent users by eBay’s remedial segregation of injunctive relief. Patent eligibility has been narrowed by newly unpredictable applications of judicially created criteria administered by subjective judicial fiat. AIA’s “harmonization’s” first inventor to file format has reinstalled European notions of virtually “absolute novelty” which favors sovereign and multinational convenience over constitutionally established inventor ownership. AIA’s PTAB has inserted confrontation into an endlessly extended application process. By its operational structure, PTAB is depriving patent holders of due process. It has created a “public rights” doctrine that has more to do with saving PTAB jobs than sound judicial theory. These legally established barriers to patent reliability and enforceability have been buttressed by the efficient infringement business model of the digital titans refereed to above who are now asking the Courts and Congress to protect their unlawful practice of IP thievery further. Today’s new sovereignty system may be more nuanced than the sycophancy in the King’s court, but it is no less effective. The global economic consequences of this narrow, self-serving influence to the remainder of our nation’s innovation ecosystem are becoming catastrophic.