WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama called for Congress to pass legislation aimed at reining in what many companies complain are proliferating and frivolous patent infringement lawsuits.
Tech companies have long complained about the lawsuits, often filed by companies derisively called "patent trolls," but retailers, coffee shops, banks and others have since been accused of infringement and joined the ranks of those lobbying lawmakers for protection.
The president announced a blueprint for reducing the number of lawsuits in June and reiterated support for the effort on Tuesday night.
"And let's pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation," said Obama in his State of the Union address.
There are a range of bills before Congress on the matter but two are seen as having the best chance of becoming law.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted on December 5 to approve a bill sponsored by Robert Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, that encourages judges hearing patent cases to award fees to the winner of an infringement lawsuit.
The bill also requires companies filing infringement lawsuits to detail which patent is infringed - something that does not now reliably happen.
Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has sponsored similar legislation. Differences between the House and Senate bills would need to be ironed out before patent legislation could become law.
Technology companies largely support the proposed measures, including Cisco Systems Inc, Apple Inc, International Business Machines Corp, Google Inc and other powerhouses.
The Association for Competitive Technology, which represents small tech companies, also backs the legislation.
But others worry that the proposed legislation could hurt small companies whose patents are genuinely infringed. They fear the measure would tip the judicial balance in favor of defendants in patent infringement lawsuits.