Innovation and Consumer Protection


Innovation is the lifeblood of the American economy, whether in the Green Mountains of Vermont or in Silicon Valley.  Vermont has a vibrant technology scene, and it is crucial that these innovative companies are able to protect their intellectual property.  At the same time, small businesses should not be unfairly targeted by abusive patent lawsuits.  As author of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the most comprehensive update of the American patent system in over 60 years, Senator Leahy is at the forefront of standing up for a strong and balanced intellectual property system that rewards innovation while protecting consumers and small businesses from abusive litigation tactics. 

Limiting Abusive Patent Lawsuits

Our patent system stands as a global model that propels the economy and benefits our society.  Unfortunately, there are certain entities that abuse the patent system by asserting low quality patents against actual innovators and unfairly target small businesses.  When these so-called “patent trolls” send threatening letters to small businesses in Vermont, and tie up companies across the country in lawsuits based on bad patents and abusive tactics, they drag down innovation and harm our economy. 

Senator Leahy has been working for years to address this problem.  The landmark Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which became law in 2011, made important reforms to improve the quality of patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  This will help curb patent troll activity going forward.  Recognizing that more could be done to specifically crack down on the most egregious abuses of the system, Senator Leahy introduced the bipartisan Patent Transparency and Improvements Act in the 113th Congress, and is continuing his work to pass meaningful legislation this year.

Promoting Vermont Innovation

Senator Leahy has worked for years to promote Vermont’s interests as a hub of innovation and new technologies.  In 2011, he shepherded through Congress the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the most sweeping update to our patent laws in over 60 years.  The legislation simplifies the rules for achieving patent protection.  The bill provides reduced fees for independent inventors and universities to apply for patents, and created a pro bono program for innovators to receive help protecting their inventions.

In 2012, Senator Leahy continued his work by passing legislation to help patent holders protect their intellectual property overseas, making it easier for companies to boost their sales in foreign markets.  He worked to protect Vermont brands from those selling counterfeit products online and passed legislation to streamline U.S. trademark laws, helping companies to protect their brands while ensuring that large corporations do not misuse the trademark laws to harass small businesses.

Protecting Consumer Choice in Cell Phone Providers

Americans are increasingly giving up landline telephone service for cell phone service.  As cell phones become the default mode for communication, it is important to ensure that consumers who have complied with the terms of their contract are able to move freely among providers and, if they choose, bring their existing phones with them to a new provider.  In 2014, Senator Leahy led Congressional efforts to pass the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which preserved consumers’ ability to unlock their phones in order to take them to the provider that best fits their needs.  The legislation responded to a popular petition on the White House website where over 110,000 consumers called for cell phone unlocking to be allowed.

Preserving Consumer Access to Satellite Television

Thousands of Vermonters rely on satellite television to watch the news, weather and sports.  Senator Leahy has worked for years to ensure that all Vermont satellite subscribers are able to watch local Vermont television stations if they so choose.  He worked last Congress to make sure that 1.5 million nationwide satellite subscribers did not lose access to their existing broadcast television content by reauthorizing an important law that was set to expire at the end of 2014. 

By reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act through 2019, Senator Leahy preserved the existing broadcast television signals for over a million Americans, including Vermonters, who may have otherwise lost access.  The reauthorization of this law included modest, pro-consumer changes to the television laws that closed a loophole allowing large media companies to control the retransmission consent negotiations of more television stations in a local market than the law otherwise allows.