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Cisco Systems Inc. and Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyers on Thursday urged Congress to create a public registry of patent troll demand letters, saying transparency would help curb the unwarranted and costly attacks businesses and their customers face from the patent assertion entities (PAEs).

Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler and EFF senior staff attorney Julie Samuels said at a U.S. Senate hearing that the patent troll letters—which claim patent infringement due to the use of a product or service and demand payment to avoid litigation—are used to scare manufacturers’ customers into settlements. The patent trolls’ end-user targets, however, often are afraid to talk openly about the letters, fearing more attention from the PAEs and allowing them to thrive, they said.

EFF has learned about this apprehension firsthand through its Trolling Effects website, which is building a public database of demand letters, Samuels said. The website, which the group launched in July, only has about 30 of the letters.

“To really solve this problem, we need congressional help,” Samuels said at the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “Despite our best efforts, trolls continue to benefit from the asymmetry of information in the marketplace.”

The Federal Trade Commission could serve as the home for a demand letter registry, Chandler and Samuels said, adding that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could be an option, too.

For a public database, the patent office could require patent owners to disclose the number of demand letters they receive for a specific patent and the names of the PAEs, among other details, Samuels elaborated in her written testimony. Alternatively, the FTC also could have a similar database, she said.

And under Chandler’s proposal, the FTC could maintain an online registry of demand letters from entities that have sent the missives to more than 10 customers of manufacturers.

“The paycheck I get every other week says ‘Cisco’ on it, but every cent comes from my customers,” he said. “That’s why I’m passionate about making sure they don’t get ripped off by charlatans dressed up as innovators when they trust us to supply them with products.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is drafting legislation that would address patent trolls. But it isn’t public yet whether public databases will have a place in the measure.

Leahy is working closely with Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who last month introduced a much-anticipated patent lawsuit reform bill. The Innovation Act from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee doesn’t call for public databases, however.

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