WASHINGTON Nov 20 A congressional panel on
Wednesday took up 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 was
considering 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 Rep. Robert Goodlatte,
was expected to clear the committee and proceed to the full
House of Representatives after stripping out a measure which
would have changed how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
reviews software patents to determine if they are valid.
The bill aims to increase transparency in the patent
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.
The bill requires judges hearing patent cases to award fees
to the winner in an infringement lawsuit, unless the judge
decides that the loser's position was "substantially justified"
or some other circumstances exist.
The bill would require companies filing infringement
lawsuits to provide specific details on what patent is infringed
and how it is used. It also would allow tech companies to jump
into lawsuits filed against their customers. For instance, a
company that makes Wi-Fi equipment could defend a bakery accused
of infringing Wi-Fi patents by simply installing a router.
Goodlatte has worked on the patent issue with his
counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat
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
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 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,"