As former Chairmen of the House Agriculture Committee, we spent decades advocating for policies that would promote economic prosperity across rural America. The most important piece of legislation for American farmers and ranchers, known as the Farm Bill, is once again moving through Congress. The Farm Bill has long enjoyed support from Members on both sides of the aisle, given its critical role in bolstering our nation’s food supply, supporting rural development, and promoting innovative research. We hope and expect that this year’s bill will be no different.
As Congress continues its work to negotiate the next Farm Bill, however, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is working to implement a set of rules that threaten to upend years of bipartisan work in Congress and devastate rural America. Following several years of economic uncertainty and supply chain disruptions the last thing our farmers and ranchers need are new costly regulations from Washington.
The U.S. agriculture sector contributes over $1.2 trillion to U.S. GDP and accounts for more than 10% of U.S. employment. This high productivity has been aided by Congress enacting 18 Farm Bills over the last century, about once every five years. The legislation’s importance has not changed, but its content certainly has. As advanced technologies and new challenges have reshaped American agriculture, the Farm Bill has adapted along with it.
The agriculture industry has been a consistent leader in adopting new technologies and innovative equipment to overcome obstacles like higher costs and international competition. In just one example of the fast-shifting technological landscape, a majority of row crop acreage is now managed using auto-steer and guidance systems, whereas the same was true of just 5% of planted corn acres in 2001, according to a USDA report from February. With such rapid change, it should be no surprise precision agriculture is now a key consideration in the Farm Bill, including efforts to make sure that small farmers don’t get left behind in technological adoption.
This is why we are deeply concerned that the USPTO, an agency not normally associated with agriculture policy, has recently proposed federal rules that would cripple the patent system that the manufacturers of high-tech farming equipment and tools rely on.
The USPTO has long-established review procedures that allow any member of the public to challenge patents they think may be invalid. If there is a reasonable likelihood that the patent shouldn’t have been granted, then expert USPTO judges take up review and determine whether USPTO examiners made a mistake when initially issuing a patent that wasn’t really a new invention. The proliferation of shell companies called patent trolls makes this patent quality check a crucial component of the patent system.
Patent trolls acquire and abuse low-quality patents by using them to make baseless patent infringement accusations. Patent trolls impose a significant cost on the businesses and individuals they target and cause resources to be diverted from beneficial purposes like growth and R&D, to wasteful uses like attorneys’ fees and settlements. Trolls have been known to target both individual farmers and the innovative companies that help bring new technologies to the farm.
The USPTO’s patent review process gives relief to victims of predatory patent trolls. Trolls have leverage because they know patent infringement lawsuits are expensive. This puts them in a strong position to extort settlements, even though their accusations are meritless. The option of USPTO review allows for low-quality patents to be invalidated, and the conflict resolved, much more efficiently and cheaply for anyone targeted.

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But now, the USPTO’s new proposals would drastically reduce who can petition for agency review and make it much more difficult to challenge invalid patents. Weakening review processes would remove the guardrails that keep patent trolls in check. The result would be higher costs and slower innovation across the economy, including in agriculture. The ill-advised proposals have already received significant blowback. More than 95% of public comments on the rules oppose them, but the agency still may move forward with the changes.
Today, farmers and ranchers depend heavily on sophisticated technologies that increase yields and overall production while allowing them to be better stewards of their land. If this rulemaking moves forward, there will be a significant cost to manufacturers, farmers, and consumers. Moreover, the USPTO doesn’t have the authority to make most of the changes it has proposed. Just like the Farm Bill, Congress writes laws, not unelected bureaucrats. This rogue rulemaking must be stopped in its tracks. If not, decades of agriculture and economic policy will be undone – all to the detriment of rural America.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.,  represented Virginia’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2019. He served as chair of the House Agriculture Committee from 2003 to 2007.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., represented Minnesota’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2021. He served as chair of the House Agriculture Committee from 2007 to 2011 and from 2019 to 2021.

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