White House Pushes Forward on Combatting Patent Trolls

Calls on Congress to finish the job

Following up on the President's pledge to combat patent trolls, the White House plans to announce Thursday afternoon additional executive actions and call on Congress "to finish the job."

Details of the new initiatives and a progress report on the actions begun last June will be presented at an event headlined by commerce secretary Penny Pritzker and Gene Sperling, the national economic council director. 

Curbing abusive patent troll practices is one of the few issues in Washington that enjoys broad bipartisan support. Last fall, the House easily passed a bill sponsored by judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Senate judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is moving forward with a Senate version and could hold a hearing next month leading to a final bill in April.

While Obama waits for legislation from Congress, he's getting the ball rolling by directing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to improve the patent system. Many of those initiatives go to the heart of the problem that agencies and retailers face when they receive vague demand letters that they either pay a fee or go to court.

One of the initiatives will establish an online toolkit where recipients of patent demand letters can easily find information about the specific patent, who owns it, and what it covers.

"That's dead-on to what we need," said Dick O'Brien, evp for the 4A's. "Most of our members almost never go to trial; they make decisions at the point of the letter. When demand letters come out, the letters are vague, and they are often form letters. Rather than doing costly due diligence, they settle."

Another initiative, developed in cooperation with private-sector companies and universities, will use crowdsourcing to help the U.S.P.T.O. determine "prior art," whether a patent is truly an innovation or a common business practice. For example, there have been disputes over radio podcasting and scanning documents into emails, things people did long before any patent was granted.

“The National Retail Federation credits the administration’s attention to strengthening the United States patent system and proposing a series of measures aimed at protecting main street retailers and restaurants from abusive patent trolls," said David French, svp of the National Retail Federation. "Further transparency, clarity, education and enforcement are all welcome steps for the nation’s business community."

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