The White House is officially taking strides towards reducing frivolous patent lawsuits. And, it’s about time! It will start by attempting to make it easy to identify who owns patents and by updating review processes to ensure that fewer weak patents are granted.
For years, tech giants like Google and Apple have searched high and low for protection against patent trolls. As of late, retailers have also joined the patent troll complaints. Some say that they have been targeted by patent trolls, if, for instance, they offer free Wi-Fi to customers. Meanwhile, some patent trolls have sent patent infringement letters to the same target through different shell companies.
According to The White House, it had responded to the complaints with a rule from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that will record who owns what patent. The USPTO also is creating an online toolkit that a company accused of patent infringement can use to research a firm that has sent a letter. The White House also stated that it hopes to knock out bad patent applications by allowing companies to identify, for example, an existing patent similar to the application.
Bernard Knight, a former USPTO general counsel, said that some of the proposals seemed unworkable, particularly the database on potential patent litigants. “It’s hard to provide legal advice to people over the Internet,” he said in a statement.
According to Hal Wegner, of Foley & Lardner LLP, The White House priority should be naming a new director for the patent office. The last permanent director, David Kappos, stepped down early last year. Former Google executive Michelle Lee was recently named deputy director with responsibility for running the agency until a new chief is appointed.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to pass legislation aimed at reining in patent infringement lawsuits. Back in December, The House of Representatives approved a bill sponsored by Robert Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, that encourages judges hearing patent cases to award fees to the winner of an infringement lawsuit. It also requires companies filing infringement lawsuits to detail which patent is infringed – something that does not regularly happen. That bill would still have to be passed by the Senate, where similar legislation has been introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
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