Steve Jobs started Apple in his garage in Silicon Valley. Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in an apartment garage outside Seattle. Stanford students Sergey Brin and Larry Page got Google off the ground in a garage they rented south of San Francisco.
But a Senate bill supported by these companies and a handful of other deep-pocketed multinational corporations threatens to close the garage doors of small inventors forever. If enacted, it will stifle American innovation and destroy untold numbers of future jobs.
I am speaking of S.1720, the so-called "Patent Transparency and Improvements Act of 2013." Its backers claim it will reduce frivolous patent lawsuits. In reality, it was designed to rid big high-tech companies of what they fear the most: little guys with great ideas.
When an American invents something useful, the only way he or she can protect that discovery and profit from it is to apply for a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Only true innovations are awarded patents, and an applicant fortunate enough to receive one has a constitutional right to stop other individuals — or, these days, multinational corporations — from making and using the invention without permission. To protect their inventions against piracy, inventors must challenge infringers in court.
Inventor and statesman Thomas Jefferson was one of the strongest champions of this system, and he was the first examiner of the nation's patent office. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that patents "added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius," and Mark Twain claimed that a country without strong patent laws "is just a crab and can't travel any way but sideways and backwards."
But S.1720 and its counterpart in the House, H.R.3309, would go a long way toward tearing our patent system down. They would tilt the playing field in favor of large companies and their armies of lawyers by making it prohibitively expensive for small inventors to file legitimate legal claims against corporate copycats, closing the courts to little guys and encouraging patent infringement.
They would also force judges to pull unwilling parties into patent lawsuits, increasing costly litigation and adding unnecessary burdens to federal dockets already bursting at the seams.
Unbelievably, these bills would even authorize the director of the patent office to create a national database of the patent-holders who defend their inventions most often — and then to develop a tax-funded program for "training" businesses on the best way to beat these innovators in court.