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Are independent inventors harmed by an altered Patent system?

The U.S. Patent system was designed to protect ownership of inventions for those who originally created them. In the past couple decades, however, changes in Patent law and the emergence of "patent trolls" have compromised this system.

Is the altered Patent system causing more harm than good for independent inventors and entrepreneurs?

In a recent article in Popular Mechanics, investigative reporter Scott Eden explores this issue, using inventor Tory Norred as a real-life example. In 1998, Mr. Norred developed an idea for a collapsible prosthetic aortic valve. The stent could be held in place within the aortic walls of the heart by force alone, without the need for sutures.

In 2002, Mr. Norred received a U.S. Patent for his creation. Unfortunately he was unable to obtain the $70,000 in funding to proceed with the project, despite four years of talking with venture capitalists and medical product companies. He essentially had to give up on his dream, until one day his invention was being presented at a cardiology conference - presented not by him, but by CoreValve.

Mr. Norred's attempts to contact the company regarding his Patent were ignored, and in 2009 CoreValve was sold to Medtronic for $775 million, as well as future payments. Currently the product's annual market surpasses $1.5 billion.

The amount Mr. Norred has profited from the invention? Zero dollars. After much deliberation, he decided to file a lawsuit. Unfortunately, as an independent inventor, he was quickly labeled a patent troll at best - and a con artist at worst.

This immediate suspicion is common for many independent entrepreneurs who attempt to protect their Patent rights, and illustrates what is wrong with the current system. Eight months after filing a lawsuit, Mr. Norred's patent was under inter partes review (IPR), which challenges validity outside of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The IPR tribunal ruled in favor of Medtronic.

With current Patent laws and regulations, will independent inventors essentially be wiped from history? Hopefully not, but time will tell.

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