Patent trolls and strong innovation

By Debby Winters

What is a “patent troll” is a common question as it conjures up all kinds of images and ideas of monsters and overbearing companies. Because there is no universally accepted definition it is sometimes hard to know just what people mean when they use the term. Many people look at a patent troll as a non-practicing entity of a patent that sues for patent infringement, just to make money off the supposed “patent infringer” as a true “patent troll.”  If this is your definition then would a university qualify? And are patent trolls always bad? Or are the sometimes good?  A lot of people think that a patent troll is always bad, but in addition to being a “pain” to tech companies, patent trolls can also be valuable to tech companies because they foster innovation.

Now to answer the question for whether universities are patent trolls, let’s examine what effect a university has on technology. Universities are non-practicing entities, but they contribute to the overall system because the research they do is important to our economy. The Bayh-Dole legislation gives incentive to universities to protect their inventions, and then to license them to businesses, particularly small businesses, who in exchange pay the university, which funds additional research and development. For this reason universities cannot be considered patent trolls, instead they are the image of what we want to foster. In addition, to many, a university would not be a patent troll because although a non-practicing entity, they do not sue others who are practicing the technology. Is suing practicing entities weakening the patent system? Maybe so but if we take only those that are trying to weaken the patent system for their own perceived advantage as patent trolls then universities certainly would not qualify. Does a weakened system foster or hinder innovation? There is no evidence that a weaker patent system fosters innovation, but there is overwhelming evidence that a strong patent system does foster innovation, and this leads to growth, investment from abroad, and a more prosperous economy.   Indeed, weak patent rights virtually guarantee innovation simply won’t happen. Where there are weak patent rights, there is no innovation.  Innovation must be the core of growth in the U.S. economy, and a strong functioning patent system is a prerequisite. Discoveries lead to inventions, which lead to new technologies, which lead to the creation of new industries, which leads to the creation of high-paying jobs. None of this is possible without significant investment, which only makes sense if you have secured rights, and that is why a strong patent system is absolutely necessary.  If it takes a patent troll to get us there, then so be it!

Science of Innovation

By Debby WintersMivey1_rdax_150x120

If you are a science geek who loves innovation, you won’t want to miss the new 11-part “Science of Innovation” series put on by  the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), along with the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News. The series is intended to coincide with the 165th birthday of American inventor Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison was born February 11, 1847 and is known for his many inventions including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the light bulb. He is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

The program represents the latest intellectual property (IP) education efforts by the USPTO and serves as a public-private partnership leveraging the best strengths of federal agencies, industry, and educators to demonstrate the connection between IP and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Narrated by NBC News’ Ann Curry, the series features innovators from across the country, including scientists and engineers working on projects in industries as diverse as healthcare, energy, transportation, agriculture, and more. “Science of Innovation” looks beyond the popular concept of innovation as the result of a single event or brilliant idea. Instead, it examines the processes and steps that anyone from a garage tinkerer to a federally funded scientist can take to discover new solutions to pressing problems or to add value in new ways to existing products, services or technologies.

“Science of Innovation” is a continuation of the Emmy-winning NSF-NBC “Science of…” partnership that has produced five other educational video series. Each video segment will be available to NBC affiliate stations and on the web for free at In addition, the series is aligned to middle school and high school lesson plans produced by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), as well as national education standards.

Segments feature innovators working on cutting-edge innovations, including bionic limbs, biofuels, anti-counterfeiting devices, and 3-D printing. A full list of videos can be found online at

Tune in and let me know what you think!