While there is little doubt that, when working properly, the U.S. patent system spurs tremendous innovation, there can be no denying that the entities commonly known as “patent trolls” represent a clear and present danger to certain sectors of the American economy. And while state governments have certainly gotten more aggressive in pursuing patent trolls, a recent statement by two prominent U.S. senators stated in bold terms that the federal government sees the need to address this problem head-on.
The senators, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees matters of patents, copyrights and trademarks. Their statement, carried on the website politico.com, does not mince words, clearly identifying the problem and vowing to address it.
The problem, as they put it, is rooted in abuse of the system by patent holders. They cite the example of a company that has a patent on Wi-Fi technology suing a hotel or coffee shop that uses a wireless router, rather than the manufacturer of that router, or a retail website that is threatened in a similar fashion. The senators point out that these lawsuits are costly, time-consuming and burdensome for small businesses.
“The result of this misuse of the patent system is a drag on our economy,” they state. “It also tarnishes the image of legitimate patent holders. This is not the patent system provided for in our Constitution.”
Of course, most of us already knew that this was a problem, but we are unable to do anything about it. Leahy chairs the Judiciary Committee and co-authored the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which helped reform patent law in 2011, is uniquely poised to solve this issue. With Mike Lee, his colleague on the other side of the aisle, Leahy can demonstrate that this is not a political issue, but rather an economic one.
“We are working on a bipartisan basis to craft legislation to address this problem of abusive practices and restore confidence in the American patent system,” the senators proclaim in their statement. “Our legislation will increase the transparency of patent ownership, protect the customer of a patented product when the manufacturer should really be the defendant and improve the process for reviewing patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.”
It’s one thing to promise to reform patent law, but it’s another thing entirely to actually get it done. In today’s sharply divided legislature, it’s hard to say for certain that this initiative will pass, but the remarks themselves represent a bold and clear directive from the U.S. government that patent trolls will not be tolerated.