After CES: One More Thing About Patents

PhotoStartups are taking the lead in the debate on patent reform, but the nature of litigation is keeping too many victims silent. Settlements agreed to by startups often prevent information from coming out about the hardships faced by entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show with patent experts from groups including Google, EFF, and Newegg. A lot of ground was covered (find great roundups in Ars Technica and Forbes), but we ran out of time before addressing one of the most critical issues facing startups: the inability of many companies to discuss cases after settling.

Why is this big deal for startups? As moderator Marvin Ammori pointed out at the end of the session, his call for questions on Twitter was answered by a host of direct messages from entrepreneurs unable to discuss the terms of settlements made. This opacity prevents a truly comprehensive understanding of the damage wrought by entities abusing bad patents.

Not much can be done to combat the silence imposed by gag orders and NDAs, but
Congressman Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, highlighted legislation during the panel that will help start the conversation on litigation reform in Congress. By decreasing the incentives to litigate, it is hoped that some of the thousands of annual patents suits may be prevented.

Startups can’t afford to be silent about the pain caused by the patent system. Engine is working to gather the stories of entrepreneurs to share with lawmakers. If you have a story to tell about the patent system, please reach out to me at Together we can change the way the patent system works.