With momentous bipartisan support not often seen from Congress these days, the Innovation Act, targeting patent trolls and their abusive practices, passed the House of Representatives with 325 votes to 91. That this Congress, with its historic levels of impasse, was able to come together to pass this bill speaks volumes about the extent of the patent troll problem. As some of us know all too well, patent assertion entities have cost US businesses time, talent and money -- not to mention the incalculable chilling effect their tendencies for extortionist litigation have had on innovation.
Now, the patent reform effort moves to the Senate with the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act introduced by Senators Leahy and Lee. The Senate bill reflects some provisions from the House bill, including fee-shifting and a system that would allow stays in lawsuits against customers and end users -- but this bill definitely is more narrowly focused on egregious litigation abuses.
This bill suggests new guidelines for dealing with demand letters. Under Senator Leahy’s Act, demand letters must include a statement of the patent asserter’s identity, the patent being asserted, and the reasons for the assertion. Additionally, the Senate bill would authorize the FTC to act against unfair and deceptive practices associated with the sending of fraudulent or materially misleading demand letters. With a nod to the root of the problem -- poor quality patents -- this bill would also improve patent review procedures requiring that the PTO apply the same claim construction used in court, rather than the “broadest reasonable interpretation.”
While Democratic leaders on the House Judiciary Committee announced their support for the Leahy-Lee approach over Representative Goodlatte's House bill, a number of Senators are urging general restraint after pushback from the university community and unease over loser-pays provisions.
We hope the Senate will act, as the House already has, with determination and all speed to remedy this issue. While there is also hope on the judicial front with the Supreme Court is set to consider the validity of software patents, every day we wait to address the scourge of patent trolling we’re wasting millions of dollars combatting a problem we can begin to remedy with the stroke of a pen. We look forward to working with our allies in the Senate to bring this bill up for a speedy resolution.
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