Congressman Hank Johnson

Representing the 4th District of Georgia

Rep. Johnson conducts oversight hearing on U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

May 9, 2019
Press Release

Congressman explores how important patents are to innovation, addresses rise of fraudulent trademarks from China

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04), chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, conducted a hearing on Oversight of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

| To watch, click HERE. |

The hearing included input from the Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu; Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Ranking Member Doug Collins. The witness and members explored the importance patents play in the innovation economy and addressed rise of fraudulent trademarks from China.

Below is the Chairman’s statement. 

“Good afternoon, and welcome to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet’s hearing on Oversight of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  I am pleased to welcome the Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu, here today to report on the state of the Agency and answer our questions.

“Intellectual property is of vital importance to the U.S. economy.  For example, economists have studied the impact of the award of a patent to small businesses, concluding that the award of the first patent to a start up, on average, leads to 16 additional employees after five years, and $10.6 million in additional sales over five years.  But businesses of all sizes have also come to Congress raising concerns about lawsuits based on patents they believe should not have issued, causing them to spend money on lawsuits instead of R&D.

“This gets at the heart of the key question that drives patent law policy – how to balance the many competing interests to ensure that the patent system incentivizes and promotes innovation to the greatest extent possible.  This is the discussion I hope to have here today.

“A strong patent system starts with a country that creates and encourages the next generation of innovators.  This Subcommittee’s first hearing examined research showing that we are falling behind in this task – there is a lack of diversity in who is getting patents.  The USPTO recently issued a report showing that only 12% of U.S. inventors are female.  Thanks to the passage of the SUCCESS Act last year, the USPTO is following up on this report with further research on underrepresentation of other groups, including racial minorities and veterans, in fulfillment of mandate of a bill we passed last year, the SUCCESS Act.  This is important work.  Fully understanding the contours of underrepresentation is an important step in designing policy that can ensure that, as a nation, we are not leaving potential inventors behind and ground-breaking innovations undiscovered.

“A strong patent system requires clear rules, which lead to reliable patent grants that attract the investment needed to turn a patentable innovation into a marketable product or service.  I have concerns that a foundational section of the Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 101, which governs patent-eligible subject matter, is not delivering this needed clarity due to a series of recent Supreme Court cases.  This poses a threat to innovation in critical technologies such as medical diagnostics.  We in Congress are considering if we must take action.  Meanwhile, the USPTO has recently tried to address this problem at the agency level with new examiner guidance, and I hope we will be able to learn more about that initiative.

“Director Iancu, you have also made a number of changes to the post-grant procedures created by the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011, including changes to the Trial Practice Guide, the creation of two new Standard Operating Procedures, rulemakings on claim construction and claim amendments, and the issuance of a significant number of precedential opinions in recent months.  I know that stakeholders have a range of opinions on these proceedings, their fairness and effectiveness, and I look forward to hearing why you believe these recent changes were needed and the impact they have had.

“Turning to trademarks, I am alarmed by reports of an increase in fraudulent trademark applications, especially the large number coming from China.  This means that American businesses might not be able to register marks they are actually using, hurting their ability to establish their brand and growth their businesses.   I would like to hear what the USPTO has done to address this so far, and what else it plans to do.”

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