Patent Rulings Trouble Entrepreneurs; Inventors Fear Problems in Defending Rights in Infringement Cases

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Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Emily Beck is eager for her new line of lingerie to begin selling in February but is worried that corporate competitors might try to steal her idea.

"We're such a small company going up against big companies," Miss Beck said about Lulu Brands, the product development company she started four years ago.

Miss Beck was one of about 200 entrepreneurs who attended the 11th annual Independent Inventors Conference yesterday at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in Alexandria.

Recent federal court decisions have modified the laws inventors use to protect their patent rights, making some of the inventors complain that they stand little chance of winning court cases against big companies.

"I know we're going to have problems defending my patents," said Miss Beck, 30, who has patents pending on her "luxury liner" underwear and germ-resistant gloves for public transit riders. If they sell successfully, other companies might copy them, she said.

Lulu Brands signed its first licensing agreement in August with a lingerie manufacturer and plans to begin selling the

undergarments in February at stores.

Independent inventors, many of whom work out of their homes while holding full-time jobs, say they would need to spend $100,000 or more on legal fees to defend their patent rights.

Some expressed concern about a May 15 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case between online retailers EBay and Merc-Exchange. …