What it looks like when patent law really matters

All of us patent attorneys who have been practicing longer than a certain amount of time can wax poetic about how great the field was back-in-the-day, when we were a sleepy sub-specialty of collegial professionals. How long that ‘certain amount of time’ is tends to vary based upon how long any particular patent attorney has been practicing, but tends to be at least ten years or more, long enough for the nostalgia to kick in.

Those memories certainly may be viewed through glasses tinted rose with nostalgia, but patent law certainly was once an obscure field. The larger legal community largely ignored us, the political powers that be noticed us only when the Patent Office funds could be diverted to help fill budget shortfalls, and the mainstream press scarcely ever wrote or spoke a word about us.

Of course, back then you could also find plenty of patent attorneys holding the opinion — with considerable justification in the mind of this patent attorney, at least — that patent law merited more attention than it received from the larger legal community and society in general. We didn’t think that our own little nook of the law deserved attention because it was somehow going to captivate people or because of our innate nobility in pursuing patent law as a career. Instead, we thought that patent law merited attention because patent law is really important.

Patent law is important because innovation is important, because business is important, because knowledge is important. The entire U.S. patent system rests upon its very own clause in our nation’s founding document, as part of a plan to form a more perfect union and secure the blessings of liberty to Americans. That is important.

We can now safely declare that patent law has begun to receive the attention it deserves.

Patent law cases at the Supreme Court? Check.

Mainstream reporting on patent law issues? Check.

Legislative gridlock? Check.

Political fights over critical governmental appointees? Check.

Internal agency payment and billing scandals? Check.

We could be frustrated by the uncertainty the Supreme Court causes when it decides a patent case without providing any real guidance. We could be bothered by the leadership vacuum at the top of the Patent Office. We could be annoyed by reporting that often misunderstands patent law.

Mostly, though, we should realize that this is what life looks like when you work in a field of law that matters.