House panel passes bill targeting 'patent trolls'

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 20, 2013 10:42pm EST

A Google trademark is reflected in Apple logo in this photo illustration taken in Berlin, August 31, 2012. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

A Google trademark is reflected in Apple logo in this photo illustration taken in Berlin, August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional panel on Wednesday approved a bill targeting patent "trolls," companies that buy or license patents from others and then aggressively pursue licensing fees or file infringement lawsuits.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted 33-5 to send to the full House a measure that appeared to have the best chance of reining in patent assertion entities, known derisively as "trolls."

The White House in June urged Congress to take steps to curb abusive patent lawsuits that have sprung up in recent years, particularly in the technology sector.

The patent reform bill, introduced by Representative Robert Goodlatte, was approved after Goodlatte stripped out a measure that would have changed how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reviews software patents to determine if they are valid.

The bill aims to fight frivolous patent litigation. In one case, a patent assertion entity, or PAE, demanded licensing payments from retailers who provided services to customers such as free Wi-Fi.

"Within the past couple of years we have seen an exponential increase in the use of weak or poorly granted patents against American businesses with the hopes of securing a quick payday," said Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, who chairs the committee.

"These suits target a settlement just under what it would cost for litigation, knowing that these businesses will want to avoid costly litigation and probably pay up," Goodlatte said at the committee session in which the bill was approved.

The bill requires judges hearing patent cases to award fees to the winner in an infringement lawsuit, unless the judge decides otherwise. The bill would also require companies filing infringement lawsuits to provide specific details on what patent is infringed and how it is used.

Goodlatte has worked on the patent issue with his counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.

Leahy, along with Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, launched a bill on Monday that would require patent holders to disclose ownership when they sue and would allow manufacturers to step into lawsuits to protect customers accused of infringing.

While similar in some respects, the House and Senate bills also have significant differences that would need to be ironed out by lawmakers if each is passed.

Other proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill, and the Federal Trade Commission has a study underway on the impact on competition of abusive patent litigation.

Patent experts such as Adam Mossoff, who teaches at George Mason University School of Law, have urged Congress to be cautious in changing patent law because of the danger of hurting companies whose patents are genuinely infringed.

Internet companies largely support the Goodlatte bill, and the effort is backed by Cisco Systems Inc, Apple Inc, Google Inc and other technology powerhouses.

To read the text of H.R. 3309, Goodlatte's "Innovation Act," see here

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny, David Gregorio and Eric Beech)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (2)
AtypicalMale wrote:
‘Our’ Congress actually pursuing productive legislation? Wonders never cease.

The intent of these bills is a good one, and I hope they get the differences between them ironed-out and get the legislation passed.

Nov 21, 2013 10:12am EST  --  Report as abuse
VKley wrote:
Diane Bartz likely has never gone up against a large entity in court over a patent matter. Whether defendant or plaintiff its always a mismatch and a difficult fight.

Most inventors like me need to use a contingent attorney firm because we do not have the spare 3 to 4 million to put on the defense or prosecute the case for the plaintiff.

If we have to budget even more to repay a winning large, deep pocket defendant who pulled out stops and got his win at any price since that price would come from the plaintiff, then we just would not sue.

We will stop making worthless patents that do not protect our efforts and creations and find another way via trade secrets.

Diana talks about support for the Goodlatte bill from Cisco, Apple and Google and other technology powerhouses. Yes they are and notable Diana does not call them invention powerhouses or core inventors.

Apple, Google and Cisco are not the core inventors who build the platforms for their innovations. Some small company or individual broke ground with a really new idea and likely as not Apple, Google or Cisco used the idea and may have only paid for what they took when sued.

An example is the touch screen, invented around 1975 before Apple existed. By the time Apple got around to using the touch screen in a product the original patents had expired. Apple does not even acknowledge these core inventions and inventors it wants the world to think an Apple employee or Steve Jobs invents everything they sell.

It’s the big corporation, Big Lie about Trolls so they can take from the weak with impunity. Goodlatte has gone home to slip the corporate donations into his piggy bank.

Nov 21, 2013 6:54pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.