As we usher in a New Year, one of the biggest issues affecting legal professionals and companies of all sizes is the threat of so-called “patent trolls.” The term is a controversial one that conjures up images of greedy, sub-human creatures. Just days before we put this issue of InsideCounsel to bed, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Innovation Act, spearheaded by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.), by a vote of 325-91.
The bill would call for more specificity in patent lawsuits, make patent ownership more transparent, include a fee-shifting provision, delay discovery and work to protect downstream users. The current version of the bill does not include a covered business method provision, which would have served to decrease the number of weak patents issued.
The good news is momentum is building to stop the trolls. One group, considered unlikely in certain circles, has emerged to champion this cause—state attorneys general have started using state consumer laws to combat trolling. General counsel from a variety of industries are leading the charge against patent trolls. Many companies have come out in support of patent reform legislation, including technology giants like Google and Microsoft; retail, hospitality, travel and other industries have also expressed their support of the Innovation Act.
Not only are patent trolls harmful to businesses, they are also taking a tremendous toll on the judicial system. One study from Boston University estimates that in 2011, more than 2,100 companies were forced to mount 5,842 defenses in lawsuits from patent trolls, up from 1,401 in 2005, at a cost of $29 billion—a $22 billion increase.
This month, InsideCounsel spoke to GCs, AGs and patent litigation experts to provide you with insights into this complex issue. In this issue’s “Inside” feature (p. 18), we take a closer look at the strange bedfellows who are joining forces to fight frivolous lawsuits, while InsideCounsel’s Rich Steeves examines the differences between non-practicing entities (NPEs) and patent trolls, and looks at the state of patent litigation post AIA in this month’s cover story (p. 46).
It’s a rare issue that unites federal and state government with big business, and cuts across both sides of the political aisle. For this reason alone, patent reform is an enormous topic for board members and general counsel alike. It’s a topic that we cover extensively in this issue and on the InsideCounsel website, and it’s certainly something we’ll return to often in the future. At least until the patent trolls are slain for good.
We hope you enjoy this issue of InsideCounsel as much as we took pleasure in putting it together.