Tuesday 30 April 2019

Regulate Early or Later: Open Banking, Fintech and Innovation

At a relatively recent international conference, I discussed how the United States generally tends to take a hands off approach to regulating new technologies which create new markets at the outset of the development of the technology.  For the most part, we allow the market to sort out the best way for the technology to develop and be deployed to consumers.  The downside with this approach concerns public choice issues.  Once the industry develops and matures—along with obvious problems, such as privacy, consumer safety and competition concerns—there tend to be issues associated with regulating that industry and the problems created.  The relatively more mature industry may attempt to capture agencies and exercise considerable influence over our politicians and other parts of government.  This is tricky because we avoid overregulating early and dampening the development of new markets and technology, but we also tend to under-regulate and pay later.  However, from the big picture perspective, it is likely better to have the industry than not have it at all.  Interestingly, we do seem to be pretty good at allowing new technologies to overrun existing markets (apparently with players who are too slow to react to changing technology and are not well-organized).  As an example, think of taxi drivers and that industry. 

Stanley V. Ragalevsky, Judith E. Rinearson and Linda C. Odom of K&L Gates in the United Kingdom have authored an article titled, “Is Open Banking Coming to the United States?”  In the article, the authors essentially describe how the EU and UK have adopted an open approach – which allows consumers to require banks to share their information with third party providers which may enable faster innovation in the Fintech industry.  The United States is apparently taking a much more cautious approach and not mandating that banks must share based on consumer request apparently amidst concerns with privacy—slightly ironic given the differences in approach to privacy between the United States and Europe. 

The United States may have a new general consumer privacy law soon.  One interesting issue is whether it will preempt all state law privacy laws.  A unified approach may reduce costs associated with compliance and potentially lead to more innovation.  Stay tuned!

Monday 29 April 2019

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology Green Paper on Improving Technology Transfer

The U.S. National Institutes of Standards and Technology has released its Final Green Paper on its Return on Investment: Unleashing American Innovation Project.  Essentially, the ROI project is intended to ensure that the United States receives an improved return on investment with respect to public funding for research and development.  The Green Paper includes stakeholder data identifying potential issues as well as proposals to improve the technology transfer process.  For example, the Green Paper on stakeholder data states:

Return on Investment Initiative – Summary of NIST’s Findings Based on Input from Stakeholders

Strategy 1 Identify regulatory impediments and administrative improvements in  Federal technology transfer policies and practices

Government Use License: According to stakeholders, the scope of the “government use license” is not well defined

March-In Rights: According to stakeholders, the circumstances under which the government may appropriately exercise march-in rights to license further development of an invention to achieve practical application are not clear

Preference for U.S. Manufacturing: According to stakeholders, existing statute supports the preference for U.S. manufacturing but the process to obtain a waiver is confusing 

Copyright of Software: According to stakeholders, the “Government Works” exception to copyright protection for software products of Federal R&D at Government-Owned, Government-Operated Laboratories constrains commercialization

Proprietary Information: According to stakeholders, an expanded protection period for proprietary information under a Cooperative R&D Agreement would encourage greater collaboration with Federal Laboratories Strengthen Technology Transfer at Federal Laboratories: According to stakeholders, updates to policies and practices under the Stevenson-Wydler Act could be simplified

Presumption of Government Rights to Employee Inventions: According to stakeholders, the process to determine a present assignment of invention rights by Federal employees to the Federal Government is overly burdensome

Strategy 2  Increase engagement with private sector technology development experts and investors

Streamlined Partnership Mechanisms: According to stakeholders, improved clarity and use of best practices government wide would streamline agreements and ensure greater transparency for R&D partners 

Expanded Partnership Mechanisms: According to stakeholders, private sector investment for translational R&D and technology maturation could be increased through expanded partnership agreements and nonprofit foundations

Technology Commercialization Incentives: According to stakeholders, recipients of Federal funding could benefit from a limited use of R&D funding awards to enable intellectual property protection 

Strategy 3 Build a more entrepreneurial R&D workforce

Technology Entrepreneurship Programs: According to stakeholders, expanding technology entrepreneurship programs at Federal R&D agencies government-wide will help build a more entrepreneurial workforce

Managing Conflicts of Interest: According to stakeholders, current requirements for managing conflicts of interest pose challenges to build a more entrepreneurial R&D workforce Strategy

Strategy 4 Support innovative tools and services for technology transfer

Federal IP Data Reporting System(s): According to stakeholders, a secure, modern platform is not available for reporting data on intellectual property resulting from Federal R&D

Access to Federal Technologies, Knowledge, and Capabilities: According to stakeholders, a federated data portal is not available to easily access, use, and analyze information on federally funded technologies, knowledge, and capabilities that are available to the public

Strategy 5 Improve understanding of global science and technology trends and benchmarks

Benchmarking and Metrics: According to stakeholders, current metrics to capture, assess, and improve broad technology transfer outcomes and impacts based on federally funded R&D and underpinning operational processes are inadequate

The Green Paper contains discussion and findings on all of the strategies and subpoints.  For example, on the government manufacturing clause:

NIST Finding 1.  According to stakeholders, the scope of the “government use license” is not well defined. Market uncertainty is created by the lack of a clear definition of “government use” that is limited to use directly by the government—or a government contractor in the performance of an agreement with the government—for a government purpose only, including continued use in research and development by the government. The scope of the government use license should not extend to goods and services made, sold, or otherwise distributed by third parties if the government—or a government contractor in the performance of an agreement with the government—does not directly use, provide, or consume those goods and services.

On using “march in rights” as a form of price control, the Green Paper notes:

Stakeholders pointed to potential consequences from using march-in rights as a price control. These reasons include impeding the creation of new drugs and discouraging university and medical school licensees from making the substantial additional investments necessary to develop and commercialize new drug discoveries. A 2019 report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation drew similar conclusions, noting that “[m]isusing the “march-in right” provision of the Bayh-Dole Act could negatively impact U.S. life-sciences innovation and result in fewer new drugs.”67 Other responses focused on ensuring that new drugs reach the people that helped fund work through Federal basic research.

The finding on “march in rights” states:

NIST Finding 2. According to stakeholders, the circumstances under which the government may exercise march-in rights are not well-defined. Market uncertainty is created by the lack of a clear definition of the use of march-in rights that is consistent with statute, rather than as a regulatory mechanism for the Federal Government to control the market price of goods and services.  

The Green Paper also notes that stakeholders are very concerned about the inconsistent and poor approach by the Federal Government to the protection of trade secrets, which puts a damper on collaboration between the public and private sectors.  On page 121-125, there is a summary chart of strategies and findings, including an indication whether the solution should be legislation, regulation or both.  The Green Paper is available, here. 

Tuesday 23 April 2019

The Subcommittee on IP in U.S. Senate Reinstated; First Action is Patent Eligible Subject Matter Reform

Recently, several members of Congress have reinstituted the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property in the U.S. Senate.  This, in and of itself, is relatively big news.  We can expect a good amount of proposed legislation moving out of this subcommittee concerning intellectual property in the near future.  
The first document to issue from the subcommittee (and includes support from members of the House of Representatives as well as the Senate) is essentially a framework for Section 101 patent eligible subject matter reform.  Patent eligible subject matter has been a controversial topic in the United States for years, and attempts to cabin the U.S. Supreme Court Alice v. CLS Bank/Mayo v. Prometheus decisions by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and some judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has led to a relatively messy and some may argue contradictory set of guidelines, rules and precedent.  This may be unhelpful to promote investment and innovation. 

A Press Release from Senator Christopher Coons from Delaware sets forth the outline of the framework:

·         Keep existing statutory categories of process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any useful improvement thereof.

·         Eliminate, within the eligibility requirement, that any invention or discovery be both “new and useful.” Instead, simply require that the invention meet existing statutory utility requirements. 

·         Define, in a closed list, exclusive categories of statutory subject matter which alone should not be eligible for patent protection. The sole list of exclusions might include the following categories, for example: 

·         Fundamental scientific principles;

·         Products that exist solely and exclusively in nature;

·         Pure mathematical formulas;

·         Economic or commercial principles;

·         Mental activities. 

·         Create a “practical application” test to ensure that the statutorily ineligible subject matter is construed narrowly.

·         Ensure that simply reciting generic technical language or generic functional language does not salvage an otherwise ineligible claim.

·         Statutorily abrogate judicially created exceptions to patent eligible subject matter in favor of exclusive statutory categories of ineligible subject matter.

·         Make clear that eligibility is determined by considering each and every element of the claim as a whole and without regard to considerations properly addressed by 102, 103 and 112. 

While this list appears to serve as a list of the broad strokes of the new legislation, it clearly appears to roll back the Alice/Mayo test.  Some of the parts of the framework appear to be concessions to some groups who might be opposed to broad subject matter eligibility, such as some technology companies.  For an IP legislative wish list by the AIPLA, please see, here.  A Congressional Research Service report on patent eligibility reform by Professor Jay Thomas is available, here.  The CRS report predates some of the more recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and USPTO decisions concerning eligibility, and includes a discussion of patent eligibility reform proposals from major IP trade associations.  If patent eligibility legislation is passed along the lines of the framework, it nicely sets up the question of how we should reform nonboviousness law, which will have increased importance as the major policy lever policing patentability. 

Here are some of the statements of Congressmen supporting patent eligibility reform:

“Today, U.S. patent law discourages innovation in some of the most critical areas of technology, including artificial intelligence, medical diagnostics, and personalized medicine,” said Senator Coons. “That’s why Senator Tillis and I launched this effort to improve U.S. patent law based on input from those impacted most. I am grateful for the engagement of all stakeholders participating in our roundtables, as well as the bipartisan and collaborative efforts of colleagues in both the Senate and the House. I look forward to continuing to receive feedback as we craft a legislative solution that encourages innovation.”

“Senator Coons and I requested to re-instate the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on IP because we saw a need to reform our nation’s complicated patent process, starting with section 101,” said Senator Tillis. “The release of this framework comes after multiple roundtables and extensive discussions with stakeholders who would be affected by reforming Section 101. Senator Coons and I look forward to receiving feedback from the release of this framework and encourage anyone who might potentially be affected to contact our office and offer us input.”

 “Upgrading the patent eligibility test is critical if we want American innovation to continue to lead worldwide,” said Rep. Collins. “Encouraging innovation in Georgia and throughout our country means restoring confidence for inventors and investors that their patent rights will be upheld in court.”

“I’m pleased to participate in this important and relevant roundtable. Many have voiced concerns about uncertainties in in this area of patent law jurisprudence, and I’m interested in hearing from all stakeholders as we continue to work towards a consensus solution,” said Congressman Hank Johnson, who serves as Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, IP and the Internet. “I particularly look forward to—and welcome—feedback on the outline proposal we’re considering here today.”

“In my home state of Ohio, leaders in the fields of biologics research and diagnostics will deliver the cures of tomorrow. This is only possible if we can protect those innovations with the patent protection that rewards the risks and investment necessary to discover the next great idea,” said Rep. Stivers. “We have the opportunity to advance our society in so many exciting and unknown ways, and we need to ensure we have a patent system that encourages that kind of game-changing innovation, instead of stifling it.”

Friday 12 April 2019

South Africa's Acute IP Information Gap

I have been busy this past month researching and speaking on the important relationship between IP, governance, business finance and accounting in the context of the collapse of Steinhoff involving irregularities in reporting on IP, the dramatic sale of EOH shares following the termination of Microsoft reseller license, the ongoing Makate drama involving the value of a payment for IP successfully taken to market by Vodacom and the reputational elements of allegations of copying by Woolworths. These examples exist against an international backdrop created by the dramatic Theranos demise, following revelations that its patented technology did not work.

The research included a collaboration with the CEOs of governance group FluidRock - Ronelle Kleyn and Adv Annamarie Van Der Merwe, time spent with the helpful Institute of Directors in Southern Africa's new CEO - Parmi Natesan, a great read of the new book by Janice Denoncourt "Intellectual Property, Finance & Corporate Governance", an analysis of Brand Finance's Global Intangible Asset Tracker 2018, various discussions with local financial guru and Managing Partner of Cartesian Capital - Anthea Gardner, assistance from Adams & Adams' Mark Beckman and progressive associate Nicholas Rosslee.

In summary, there exists an increasingly important IP information gap in financial disclosures in South Africa that is severely hampering business growth, cultural preservation and opportunity. The IP information gap exists across the business spectrum; large, medium and small businesses are affected. Whilst this is a global challenge, it is particularly acute in South Africa especially in the area of patents. South Africa's patent economy is woeful and stands in stark contrast to its capacity to innovate. It is extremely important to address this gap which starts with a concerted drive on IP education, self audits and the cultivation of an economy that understands the benefit of investing in IP to stimulate growth and further innovation, and also how to draft, use and interrogate an IP narrative in financial accounts effectively.

The slide deck for the seminar co-hosted with FluidRock at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that attracted over 200 people can be found: here, the article published in Business Day: here, the PowerTalk interview with the award winning journalist Iman Rappetti: here, and the talented 702 Morning Show presenter Relebogile Mabotja: here.

This is an ongoing conversation that traverses a number of different disciplines. I am hoping that this is start of more on the subject for a richer understanding of how innovation and stakeholder interest can be made more transparent, open and effective through the use of IP.