Hey Washington!  I’m an Inventor, Not a Troll.

By Eric Huber


714 904 1771

San Juan Capistrano, Calif. I am a classic independent inventor. I work out of a workshop at my own home, and invent new products to solve the headaches of daily life. Do you want to avoid using nasty chemicals when you clean the kitchen? I invented a microwavable steam sponge that can do the job without them. I’ve licensed 12 inventions over the past several years, and I have raft of others in the pipeline.

But last week, I did something I’ve never done before: I flew to Washington, D.C., and spent almost two days meeting with House and Senate lawmakers and their staffs to slow down the rush on patent “reforms.” I am not a lobbyist, and certainly not a Washington insider. I live in Orange County – about as far outside the Beltway as you can get.

Unfortunately, I’m now worried that Congress will turn independent inventors like me into collateral damage. Nobody wants to undermine inventors, of course. The goal is to crack down on “patent trolls,’’ the nickname for companies that buy up patents and then file frivolous patent-infringement lawsuits against thousands of companies. It’s a noble goal, and I sympathize. The problem is that the bills now in Congress would inadvertently lump legitimate inventors like me in with the “trolls.”

This isn’t a hypothetical worry. Senate Judiciary Committee may vote on a bill as early as this week. House passed the so-called Innovation Act late last year. And I’m telling you: if Congress passes something close to the House bill, it will do serious damage to legions of independent inventors and entrepreneurs, the very people we celebrate for the innovation and willingness to take risks.

I work closely with Edison Nation, the invention-development company, and I joined a group of about eight other inventors and small business owners. We went in person because nobody in Congress seemed to think that real inventors even had a stake in this. In 2011, Congress passed a major patent-reform law after five years of work and a lot of input from inventors. Last November, the House passed another sweeping patent bill just five weeks of debate -- and no testimony from inventors.

On our visit, we found strong support from one of Orange County’s own House members – Rep. Dana Rohrbacher. But many other lawmakers and staff seemed surprised that there might even be another side to the story.

To be clear, I have never sued anyone for patent infringement. Nobody would call me a troll. But patent protection is crucial to inventors like me. It takes years to invent a product with real commercial potential, and getting it to the market is even more difficult. I license all my inventions to other companies, which take on the manufacturing and marketing. Many if not most independent inventors do the same thing.

Think about it, though: who on earth would pay me good money for an invention that rivals can copy as soon as it shows up in stores? Why should I even invent in the first place? Patents are often the only chance many inventors have to reap a reward from all the risks they’ve taken. We aren’t trolls who want to extort money. We are ordinary people who don’t want our inventions stolen.

The idea behind many of the bills is to make it harder for “trolls” by adding new requirements and new risks on companies that file patent-infringement lawsuits.

Here’s one tiny example of how the House bill spells trouble. Under current law, a company that’s accused of patent infringement can challenge the patent’s validity and ask the Patent and Trademark Office to investigate. But if the Patent Office confirms that the patent is valid, the company isn’t allowed to get another bite at the apple.

The House bill allow an accused infringer to attack a patent’s validity two, three or even more times. All an infringer would have to do is conjure up a new theory each time. Even a mediocre legal defense team tie a case up for years.

Trust me, no inventor wants to spend money on litigation. Even a small case can wipe out our life savings, and corporate defendants have a huge financial advantage.

But if inventors can’t protect their rights in court, it will be hard to invent at all. Everybody will suffer. As Senate lawmakers take up this issue, I hope they take it slow and avoid the House’s mistakes.

Eric Huber is a prolific inventor in San Juan Capistrano whose work has been featured on the PBS series “Everyday Edisons” and in numerous publications. Visit his website at www.vonhuber.com