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    In a time when small businesses are simply trying to stay afloat amidst a struggling economy, new obstacles are being put in their way of success. Recently the issue of patent laws has arisen due to some new changes in a federal patent law. Instead of being fined $500 for just one incident of a product being sold with an expired patent, now the business can be charged for each product sold with the expired patent number on it. Due to this stipulation, now businesses like Holdup Suspenders, run by a small businessman Sal Herman, can be sued for every pair of pants he has sold since his patent expired in May 2008. This opens up a whole new field for lawyers to chase down these "false marked" products and puts small business owners at a great disadvantage compared to the bigger retail businesses.

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    Now that anyone-not just someone linked with the company or product-can sue a business for an expired patent, small businesses in particular must now pay much closer attention and this attention is costing them even more money. Herman has had to hire 6 new employees to his already small staff of 5 to help scratch off his patent number from the suspenders-an expense he had not anticipated. These potential fines could put Herman out of business and shows how other small business owners could be in jeopardy of losing money due to these incessant fines and the greater risk of being tracked down by a lawyer.
    Patent laws are already a somewhat confusing process, especially for small businesses, which are competing against big, brand name companies. These laws are not the easiest to follow and the procedure for obtaining a patent can be long and frustrating. Even the qualifications of what constitutes as a protectable subject matter is still in debate and this confusion leads to a greater dissatisfaction of the business world. However, these patents help enable businesses to start and maintain a successful business, so they are vital to the economy and businesses all across the state. The problem comes when business owners are not able to manage their business due to confusing patent laws.
    This is simply another cause of trouble in the business community that is already dealing with a struggling economy, insurance benefits and health care issues, and possibly losing tax cuts this year. This is why the focus is not so much on the patent laws, but more on the struggles these small businesses are failing. If it is true what some believe about small businesses running this country, and this state, then these hurdles, including patent laws need to be solved soon.

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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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    Policy Fellow: Marie Hallberg

    Marie Hallberg is the commerce & regulation correspondent for the Michigan Policy Network and a first-year student at Michigan State University. Currently, she is a no preference major, but is interested in either a teaching or communications degree. Marie is very excited to be attending MSU and anxious to explore the opportunities that are available to her. Marie is originally from Illinois and enjoys hanging out with her family and friends, reading, and being in band. Her career aspirations include a job focused on serving and working with people, possibly in the guest service area. She is very interested in using her experience on the Michigan Policy Network to help better her understanding of the Michigan government and how its policies ultimately affect the citizens of Michigan.