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Chief Judge Paul Michel, head of the federal patent court, implored a group of Chicago lawyers to voice their views in the congressional debate over patent “reform,” lamenting that California technology companies are currently driving the discussion. Michel, who was addressing the Richard Linn American Inn of Court, urged the lawyers to write to congressional members, such as Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and to David Kappos, the new chief of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, to express their opinions. The judge, who heads the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, said he hopes that congressional hearings on the issue aren’t over. “Patent legislation is an opportunity for things to get much better, but it’s also a risk for things to get much worse, and it’s not entirely clear which direction it’s going to head in,” Michel said. “It will depend a lot on what people in the profession do. If we each do our part, then I think the odds go up greatly that the outcome will be favorable to the broad mass of companies.” Michel estimates that 14 Silicon Valley companies, which mainly produce computer and telecommunications equipment, are influencing the debate the most. The interests of many other industries and geographic regions and the bulk of some 30,000 U.S. companies with more than 100 employees, he suggested, are not being heard. In reviewing most of the congressional testimony from the past five years, Michel said he found it lacking. Specifically, he said statements that the patent system has been ruined by an explosion of litigation and that there have been rampant and excessive damage awards are wrong. Both the number of patent infringement cases filed and the median award in those cases have been stable for the past 15 years, he said. Lawyers should act to protect the patent system “against the risk of it becoming degraded and diminished and diluted,” said Michel, who was speaking at the offices of Chicago-based intellectual property firm Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione. According to Michel, getting the patent laws right is important because the U.S. economy is at a crossroads where the rate of innovation will determine the economy’s future strength in the face of foreign competitors. “Our prosperity and our sovereignty and our independence as a country rest heavily on economic health, which in turn rests heavily on the American innovation system,” Michel said. “We are rich in every material and intellectual way you can imagine. Those riches are at risk now in a way they have never been at risk before.”

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