A Florida Patent Attorney’s Suit of Armor: Integrity
A great majority of the news on patents deals with patent infringement, patent law, and, not coincidentally, it brings to mind the overriding importance of ethics in protecting intellectual property–and profits. As a Florida patent attorney, the long term growth of my business depends on the integrity of the patent applications I file, and recent news underlines its significance.
In a recent online edition of the International Herald-Tribune, Robert Pear wrote an article on just this issue. Currently, patent law dictates that patents held by companies or individuals who have engaged in "inequitable conduct" are subject to having those patents revoked. A pretty severe penalty–maybe, and the subject of hot debate in today’s courtrooms.
Patent laws, which affect Florida patent attorneys and patent seekers (and interested parties everywhere), are at the crossroads, with some lobbying for "the biggest changes in U.S. patent law in more than 50 years." Very nearly every industry is represented.
On the one hand, opponents of current patent law wonder if the law is too severe for what senior VP and general counsel for Eli Lilly calls "relatively minor acts of misconduct." According to the article, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has found inequitable conduct in "at least 40 cases, including 14 that involved pharmaceutical or health care products." Types of misconduct have included submitting false statements to the patent office, a lack of accuracy in describing experiments, and concealing information contradicting their claims. Brand name drug companies and the companies who support them report that accusations are frequent and, often simply "honest mistakes."
On the other hand, I wonder: In patenting, particularly medical patenting, is there really any room for mistakes–honest or otherwise? Florida patent attorneys and patent attorneys everywhere who are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office know that protecting their clients requires the utmost in meticulous attention to detail (after detail after detail). The better the application, the more quickly it passes, the more secure the received patent is from attack, and the more the client is free to profit from it. With patent infringement and other litigation costing us into the billions of dollars, can we really afford misinformation and mistakes?
Consumer groups think not, though recent patent legislation threatens to make it a little easier to make "mistakes." The House of Representatives approved a bill making it more difficult to prove inequitable conduct, and the Senate Judiciary Committee are "haggling over a companion bill." That bill may reach the floor this summer.
The need to stop unfounded accusations notwithstanding, this Florida patent attorney is hopeful that the backbone of integrity that supports the patent system will win out and grow in strength in years to come.