Patent overhaul


A long-standing patent dispute over trim tab designs will likely head to court next year as Bennett Marine and its competitor, Lenco Marine, continue to argue their cases.

But let’s go beyond individual lawsuits, for a minute, and look at the big picture.

The Patent Reform Act of 2007 updates patent laws to provide much needed reform for patent seekers and patent holders, according to its sponsors.

The bill, supported by the giant technology companies, would create a pure “first-to-file” system to bring needed clarity and certainty to the U.S. patent system. The American system is the only one in the world that still grants patents to the first inventor rather than the first to file an application, say its supporters. The bill also creates a more streamlined and effective way of challenging the validity and enforceability of patents.

Other highlights of the bill include:
- a longer period of public review of an invention
- restricts the venue in which patent litigation is filed to districts in where there is a direct relationship between plaintiff and defendant
- limits compensatory damages in infringement suits to the infringer’s direct economic gain, rather than the existing, flexible standard of a hypothetical royalty license.

Some businesses have come out against the bill, arguing the U.S. might be exposed to increased foreign competition. The bill, they say, would make it easier for foreign competitors to legally copy patented methods and products.

The AFL-CIO says the patent overhaul may limit damages for infringement.

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have voiced concern. So have universities and many manufacturers, such as Caterpillar and Dow Chemical Co. They argue the legislation is too far-reaching and would stifle innovation by weakening the value of patents.

What do you in the marine industry think?

Lois Caliri
Soundings Trade Only