This post originally appeared in Roll Call.
The House and Senate bills were both carefully crafted to shift the playing field just a bit — to make it easier for small companies and individuals to defend themselves against patent threats while holding patent holders accountable for the lawsuits they file. Despite loud complaints from the traditional patent holder community, the bills’ provisions were actually quite modest, such as a requirement that patent holders set forth the basic framework of their case — who owns the patent, what product allegedly infringes the patent, and what parts of the patent are at issue. Or reasonable limits on discovery, usually litigation’s most burdensome and expensive phase that hits an operating company much harder than a non-practicing entity who has little to no information about its so-called business practice to share.
To be honest, I didn’t think the proposed legislation went far enough. But it represented an important compromise to fix a very serious problem.
Perhaps, most importantly, there was nothing in either bill that would prohibit a patent holder with a strong patent and a legitimate claim of infringement from bringing a lawsuit. Ownership of a patent alone should not be a blank check to, as President Obama said, extort money out of an operating company. This is not to say that patents do not have a place in today’s economy or to condone infringement. It is to say, however, that the current system is skewed way too heavily in favor of patent owners and this has to change.
We will only see this change through legislation. Strong champions of real patent reform — President Barack Obama, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. — know this. So do the countless victims of patent trolls. Which is why the prospects for reform look especially good in the 114th Congress. It can’t come soon enough.