Bill to Curb Patent Troll Abuses Taking Shape

Coalition: 'We're closer than we ever were'

Even as Congress battles over funding the government, new legislation to curb abusive patent troll practices is beginning to take shape. Members of the Big Tent Coalition representing a diverse of group of businesses victimized by patent trolls met Wednesday to review a discussion draft of a highly-anticipated bill circulated earlier this week by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House judiciary committee.

Formed this summer, the coalition made up of 50 groups and organizations representing diverse businesses—including retailers, advertisers, agencies, bankers, realtors and restaurants—have been a major force in pushing lawmakers to act on an issue that was previously thought of as a technology issue.

"We're closer than we ever were," said Beth Provenzano, senior director of government relations for the National Retail Federation, one of 100 attendees at the meeting on Tuesday, along with representatives from Google, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and others. 

Though there are more than a half a dozen bills in Congress, what Goodlatte does, as chairman of committee with jurisdiction over patent law, is key. Goodlatte and Senate counterpart, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are working together on bills. Goodlatte's draft bill is the first to be circulated and a hearing on the bill is expected, though no date has been set. Leahy hasn't circulated his bill yet.

The draft bill rolls up several other bills that have been introduced in the House, but most important to the coalition was how the bill would protect end users, an easy target for patent trolls. Both Goodlatte and Leahy are interested in figuring out a way to make sure the company being sued is the patent holder of the technology, not the user. For example, one patent troll sued more than 4,000 coffee shops over a Cisco router. One of the ideas being tossed around, and included in Goodlatte's draft, is that any case against an end user would be stayed.

Another provision at the top of the coalition's list is the demand letters. Often scary, if not downright threatening, the letters offer very little information to the addressee. The letters often don't specify what the infringement claim is, or what company is the true holder of the patent; shell companies are often used. Although the Goodlatte bill addresses transparency issues across the entire patent system, it does not specifically address demand letters.

There are other provisions in Goodlatte's draft, such as shifting of legal fee responsibilities to the losing party in proceeding. "The customer suit stay and a provision addressing demand letters, coupled with the other provisions, will help eradicate the problem," Provenzano said.