C4IP Q&A Series: Revisiting Interview with Senator Thom Tillis

Last week, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) reintroduced the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act to Congress alongside co-sponsor Chris Coons (D-DE), receiving praise from C4IP’s board.

In January, C4IP interviewed Sen. Tillis as part of a Q&A series. Here’s an excerpt of what he had to say at that time about the importance of strong IP rights and patent policy.

C4IP: Since coming to Congress, you have been a strong advocate for our nation’s innovative and creative industry sectors. Why have you made supporting these industries, and the intellectual property policies upon which they depend, such a priority?

Sen. Tillis: When I worked in the private sector, I saw firsthand the foundational importance of intellectual property rights to the American innovation economy. Strong, reliable, and predictable IP rights provide protections and incentives to creators, which in turn fuels our economy. And when I speak to IP rights I speak to all forms of IP — patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.

When I entered the Senate, I sought to extend my experience with intellectual property rights and to apply that experience to the tough policy questions which inventors and creatives are facing. Serving as both Chairman and Ranking Member on the Intellectual Property Subcommittee has provided me the chance to consider tough issues and to seek solutions that will protect intellectual property rights and encourage innovation. We must remain the world’s global leader and innovator, and ensuring strong intellectual property rights will continue to be a primary focus while I serve in the Senate.

C4IP: As Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary IP Subcommittee, you have played a key leadership role on a wide-range of IP issues. In the 117th Congress, you were particularly active on patent policy and introduced or co-sponsored a number of patent-related bills. Why do you feel it is so important for Congress to focus on patent policy, especially at this time?

Sen. Tillis: I don’t necessarily believe that the first fix for a given issue should be a legislative one. Often times there are various non-legislative options available and I believe that these measures should be explored first. However, there comes a time when a legislative solution is necessary to ensure that IP rights remain strong. A perfect example of this patent eligibility jurisprudence.

As a result of a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, patent eligibility law has become confused, constricted, and unclear over the years. This has led to inconsistent case decisions, uncertainty in innovation and investment communities, and unpredictable business outcomes. This is not only a domestic issue, but also an international issue as we seek to combat foreign efforts to undermine intellectual property rights, particularly from the Chinese Communist Party.

When I served as Chairman of the IP Subcommittee during the 116th Congress, I prioritized the issue of patent eligibility. We held three days of subcommittee hearings at which 45 witnesses testified about the state of patent eligibility. These hearings confirmed my concern that our patent system was not meeting the moment, and further encouraged me to seek solutions by bringing together stakeholders to work through some of the thorniest patent issues out there.

While negotiations continued, I also worked with my good friends David Kappos and Judge Paul Michel to file an amicus brief in the American Axle case. I believed this case provided the Supreme Court an opportunity to provide much needed clarity to the patent community and to all Americans. This lack of clarity, in terms of patent eligibility law, threatens to hinder innovation and to unseat us as the world’s innovation leader, especially in new and emerging technology sectors such as precision medicine, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. Furthermore, and even more concerning is that this lack of clarity has the potential to cripple our economic growth. I was sorry to see the Supreme Court declined the opportunity to offer clarity on patent eligibility.

Between the negotiations I engaged in and the decision by the Supreme Court not to consider American Axle, I became convinced that it was time to put down a marker to move the legislative conversation around patent eligibility. That is why I introduced the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act, which is a product of nearly four years of consensus driven stakeholder conversations. It maintains the existing statutory categories of eligible subject matter, which have worked well for over two centuries, and addresses concerns regarding inappropriate eligibility constraints by enumerating a specific but extensive list of excluded subject matter. I look forward to re-introducing this bill and will work in a bipartisan and bicameral manner to pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk.

In my role as Co-Chair of both the Creative Rights Caucus and the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, I will continue to focus on this important issue, including through legislative solutions as needed.

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