Levin to testify before Congress

Today in the nation’s capital, Yale President Richard Levin will be speaking not as a representative of higher education but rather as a specialist in intellectual property rights when he goes before the Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. He delivered similar testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Levin honed his expertise in intellectual property rights and the patent system as a graduate student and professor at Yale. Joining University of Pennsylvania management professor Mark Myers, who co-chaired the National Research Council’s comprehensive review of the U.S. patent system, Levin will call for reforms that he said will improve the quality and timeliness of patent decisions. Levin said the current patent system is overwhelmed by applications, especially in areas of new technology.

“We concluded that on the whole the patent system is working well and does not need fundamental revision,” Levin said in his prepared statement before the Senate Monday. “Yet we did note some causes for concern.”

To combat burgeoning patent litigation costs, the report recommended creating a proceeding for parties to directly contest patents granted by the federal government for up to nine months after the patent is issued, instead of delving into lengthy and expensive court proceedings. The procedure is designed to weed out poor quality patents early on.

“That’s the big part of the reforms,” said Jim Crowne, a spokesman for the American Intellectual Property Law Association, which endorsed most of the NRC’s reforms. “If you had to wait until there was a hard dispute between the parties, the litigation costs would be enormous.”

The report also called for the U.S. government to grant patents to the first party which files a patent, as opposed to the first-to-invent basis that is currently used. Levin said moving to the first-to-file system, which the rest of the world uses, would eliminate years of time-consuming legal discovery, depositions, and testimony that can stifle innovation. Such a move would also put the United States in step with the rest of the world.

But Andrew Krauss, president of the Inventor’s Alliance, an association of independent inventors based in Silicon Valley, said legislation that would move the U.S. patent system to a first-to-file standard would benefit large companies at the expense of individuals who cannot afford to patent every idea they might have.

“Innovation and the independent inventor are a lot of what America is founded on,” Krauss said. “To change to a first-to-file system is to really suppress independent innovation, which is already suppressed enough in my opinion.”

Levin’s testimony today follows more than four years of research and collaboration he and Myers undertook with lawyers, economists, business leaders and inventors from around the world. The group began its deliberations with several divergent views but gradually reached consensus on several recommendations, Levin said.

“It’s very gratifying to have pulled together a diverse group and see the work endorsed,” he said.

Levin said his proposals, if passed into law, would not have a direct impact on Yale, but might eventually bode well for the University because it would create more investment opportunities for research companies.

“If the economy is more dynamic, then this is good for us,” Levin said.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith ’69, a Republican from Texas, has already drafted a bill that incorporates most of the NRC’s reforms, Levin said.

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