I am a small inventor who believes deeply in the American dream.
I am an immigrant to this country. My mother was an Italian actress and my father, an American, was a self-taught engineer.
My parents taught me two things: Never lose sight of our dreams and never stop working hard to make them become reality. Their inspiration helped me become a successful inventor and businessman.
America is a great country because it protects its inventors and innovators. Under our Constitution, the inventor and the inventor’s creations are specifically protected, because the Founding Fathers believed deeply that innovation must be protected for our country to advance.
The Tea Party movement rose up in the last election because the people believed that the Congress has gone seriously off-track, favoring big government and big corporations over the aspirations of the normal folks like me who just want a level playing field to succeed.
The Tea Party movement especially rose up because the malfeasance of Wall Street bankers who put their own interests above the interests of the country at large. The Tea Party movement especially hated the big bank bailout that rewarded banks for their illegal and immoral behavior.
Republicans won the last election because of the energy that came from the Tea Party and from those voters who have had enough of the Washington nonsense.
If that is the case, and I think it is, then why have the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee decided to give the banks another bailout that specifically attacks me?
Their patent reform bill contains a provision that is aimed at putting me out of business.
In 1994, I invented a system that enabled check image exchanges to save banks money and make banking more convenient for consumers. I built a prototype, formed a company (now called Data Treasury), applied for patents in 1997 and 1998, and then raised money from investors to help build my company. I offered to license my technology to several big banks around the turn of the century, only to see them steal my intellectual property and build their own check imaging systems using my invention. In 2005, one of the biggest banks, JP Morgan Chase, chose to settle with me, admitting the validity of my patents. But that didn’t stop others from doing the same game.
Eventually, I had to go to court several different times to get these banks to acknowledge their theft of my intellectual property and pay my company back. Most of them have done exactly that, but others have held out, hoping that they could flex their political muscles and buy legislation that would have the Congress step in and bail them out.
Several years ago, the big banks tried to get an amendment into a so-called patent reform bill that gave them immunity from having to pay their licensing fees to me. The author of the amendment, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), acknowledged that it probably wasn’t constitutional, and he decided to withdrawal it.
But the big bankers and their high-priced lobbyists didn’t give up. Indeed, last month, the House Judiciary Committee at the request of the Financial Services Roundtable included in their so-called patent reform bill some obscure language that to the naked eye means nothing. But to me it could mean the end of my business and a devastating loss to all my stockholders.
Within section 18 of the bill that passed the Judiciary Committee, the financial services industry would be given special treatment to stop the kind of lawsuits for patent infringement that my company must use to be able to stop the banks from stealing my technology. The purpose of this provision is to bail out the banks as they continue to break the law.
My question is simple: Haven’t banks been given enough special interest breaks?
Isn’t that one of the reasons that the Tea Party came into being in the first place?
The big-time lobbyists for the big banks say that we are not the target for this provision. But when we ask for a specific carve-out to make certain that this provision is not meant to kill us, they shake their heads no.
The financial services industry says, under its breath, that I am a patent troll and that my company is a patent-trolling company. But that is not true. I did not go buy up someone else’s patents and file meritless lawsuits like a patent troll. I am an inventor who has his own patents, built a company around them, and has weathered years of attacks from the big banks.
I am not a lawyer. I am an inventor. In fact, earlier this year, the United States Business and Industry Council named me its “2010 Inventor of the Year.” Kevin Kearns, the president of the USBIC, said of me: “We are proud to honor Claudio as our ‘Inventor of the Year.’ He is brilliant and tenacious, and he isn’t afraid of standing up for what’s right. In short, he is the ideal American inventor. Innovators like Claudio are national treasures. They must be free to patent their ideas and bring them to market so that American businesses can move the economy forward and increase the standard of living for all Americans in the future.”
If we are to continue to thrive as a nation, we need to protect the small guys against big government and against big corporations that want to squash competition. The Tea Party rose up because of the bank bailout in 2008. It should rise up against this bank bailout in 2011.
Claudio Ballard is the founder of Data Treasury and the United States Business and Industry Council’s “2010 Inventor of the Year.”