Hawaii Problems Won't be Fixed by Patent Reform

WASHINGTON — Peruse patents filed by Hawaii inventors and you'll find ideas that range in complexity from the pet turtle slope to an apparatus to prevent breakage on semiconductor substrates.

Yet many of Hawaii's best inventions may be going unprotected. The state rakes in a huge amount of federal research money, but files fewer patents per capita than all but two states.

President Barack Obama says that the ideas flowing into the U.S. patent system are critical to improving the economy — good ideas make for successful businesses, which create jobs. But there's consensus that the patent system designed to encourage innovation is so flawed that innovation is actually hampered.

There's a massive backlog of patents stacked up in a resource-strapped office that isn't able to thoroughly vet inventions in the first place. A lack of scrutiny creates an environment ripe for patent abuse, and patent lawsuits are rampant. On top of that, Congress drains some of the patent office's much-needed revenue from filing fees for use in other government programs.

But even if Congress is able to begin to solve these systemic problems, local patent experts say it still may not get at the underlying issues that keep Hawaii from fully realizing innovation and growth in an ideas-based economy.

Congress has long debated overhauling the U.S. patent system, and now it appears lawmakers are finally close to doing something about it. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to decide on Tuesday whether to proceed with the America Invents Act, which passed the House in June. The Senate is expected to approve the measure.

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