WASHINGTON Dec 17 U.S. senators discussed on
Tuesday whether a proposed bill aimed at reining in unnecessary
patent litigation could also hurt companies whose patents have
been genuinely infringed.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has
sponsored legislation aimed at targeting aggressive "patent
assertion entities," often known derisively as "patent trolls" -
companies that buy or license patents and then extract licensing
fees or file infringement lawsuits often viewed as frivolous.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, urged
"I am wary of overkill," he said. "I am wary of unintended
consequences. We have a very important obligation here to make
sure that we do no harm."
But Leahy said the bill as written does not go too far.
"(The bill is) balanced and targeted to preserve the rights
of legitimate patent holders," he said at a committee hearing.
"As we discuss proposals to address the problem of patent
trolls, I urge this committee to stay focused on that balance."
Witnesses at the three-hour hearing were drawn from various
backgrounds, but showed broad support for allowing judges to
require losers in patent litigation to pay the winner's fees if
the judge decides the case should never have been filed, a
requirement designed to cull frivolous actions.
Dana Rao, an Adobe Systems, Inc vice president, was
one who supported fee-shifting.
"Fee shifting is a disruption of the business model (of
patent trolls), he said. "We really need to address the
Philip Johnson, the chief intellectual property counsel at
pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, who spoke for
a coalition of companies, was critical of proposals to create
delays in document discovery during patent litigation while the
battling sides sort out what certain portions of the patent,
called claims, really mean.
"Such an approach would serve as an open invitation to
copyists to enter the U.S. market safe in the knowledge that
patent actions brought against them will come to a virtual
standstill for an extra year or more while the parties wrangle
over the meanings of patent claim terms," he said.
"In the meantime, manufacturers' market shares, and the jobs
they support, will shrink as the infringement continues."
The Senate follows the U.S. House of Representatives in
taking up the issue of patent abuse. The House approved a bill
this month aimed at reining in "patent trolls" by encouraging
judges to award fees to the winner of an infringement lawsuit.
The House bill would also require companies filing
infringement lawsuits to provide specific details on what patent
is infringed and how it is used.
Sponsored by Robert Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, it
targets much-criticized patent assertion entities, for behavior
such as sending large numbers of licensing demands to small
businesses without determining if they actually use infringing
The White House urged Congress in June to take steps to curb
abusive patent lawsuits that have sprung up in recent years,
especially in the technology sector.
In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has a study
underway on the impact on competition of abusive patent