What Do Inventors Think About Weakening Patents?

December 1, 2014

Public perceptions have played a key role in the legislative debate over patent policy. So we have been tracking some interesting surveys that relate to patent issues: Lex Machina shared a study that showed patent case filings in September of 2014 are down 40% year-to-year. A survey of 50 Silicon Valley insiders by The Atlantic indicated that only 8% of those surveyed named the need for patent reform as the biggest barrier to innovation in the United States. We had some questions of our own, and decided to go straight to the source – inventors. We created an 11-question survey with the goal of understanding how American inventors view proposed legislation that would weaken patent laws. Respondents were asked if they described themselves as an inventor and whether patents play an important role in their business. The following questions were then randomly rotated to control for order bias. The survey was distributed through U.S.-based inventor/innovation networks and fielded online for two days. Of the 1,162 respondents who completed the survey, 823 identified themselves as inventors.

Here’s what they think:

  • 3 out of 4 inventors say they would stop inventing if weakened patent laws couldn’t protect their ideas from infringement by larger companies or foreign knock-offs.
  • 8 out of 10 inventors say they would not hire new employees if patent laws were weakened.
  • 9 out of 10 inventors say they would be less likely to get funding from investors if patent laws are weakened.
  • 2 out of 3 inventors say that if they had to pay the legal fees for the opposing side in a patent infringement lawsuit, it would discourage them from bringing new ideas to market.
  • 9 out of 10 inventors say that if a large corporation could tie up a patent infringement case in the courts while continuing to sell products that infringe upon their ideas, it would be harmful or devastating to their business.
  • 9 out of 10 inventors say their business would be harmed if weakened patent laws made it easier for foreign manufacturers to knock off their inventions.
  • 9 out of 10 inventors say their business would be harmed if patent laws are weakened.

These results suggest the various elements of upcoming patent reform (based on last year’s proposed legislation and current statements by legislators) are not supported by America’s inventors, which could explain why members of Congress eager to push through a bill haven’t taken the time to hear what the most important stakeholders in the patent system think about the proposals. The results also go a long way toward explaining why inventors worry so much about legislation and want their voices heard.