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Critics to Congress: Put the brakes on patent bill

A patent reform bill targeting so-called trolls needs more time to mature, several groups say

By , IDG News Service
December 03, 2013 04:36 PM ET

IDG News Service - The U.S. House of Representatives needs to take more time to debate and rewrite a bill targeting so-called patent trolls because several provisions would hurt legitimate patent holders, several critics of the bill said Tuesday.

The House is scheduled to vote on the Innovation Act as soon as this week, but members of the higher education, venture capital and other industries called on Congress to refine the legislation before passing it.

The Innovation Act is good "for people who don't like patents and would like  them all to go away," said Gary Lauder, a venture capitalist. Researchers at  universities often invent products that are manufactured by private companies,  and the bill, as written, is "going to disrupt this system," added John Vaughn,  executive vice president of the Association of American Universities, during a  press conference Tuesday.

The Innovation Act, sponsored by several members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, targets businesses that use patent licensing and lawsuits as their primary source of revenue. These patent assertion entities (PAEs) are often called patent trolls, but it's difficult to define trolls in a way that protects legitimate inventors who choose not to make products based on their patents.

The bill would require plaintiffs in patent infringement lawsuits to identify the patents and claims infringed in initial court filings, in an effort to reduce complaints about PAEs filing lawsuits with vague patent claims. The bill would also allow judges to require that losing plaintiffs pay defendants' court fees.

In addition, the bill would allow courts to delay massive discovery requests from patent infringement plaintiffs until the patent claims have been interpreted by the court, and it would allow manufacturers and suppliers to intervene in patent litigation against their customers. In recent years, some PAEs have targeted end users of technologies that allegedly infringe their patents in an effort to collect more patent license fees or court awards.

The bill has split the U.S. technology industry, with many large companies and trade groups supporting the bill.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a long-time critic of over-broad technology patents, sent out an email blast Monday morning, calling on supporters to contact lawmakers in support of the bill. "The Innovation Act is the best bill yet that stops patent trolls, bad actors who use intimidation and lawsuits to shake down inventors, small companies, and startups," the email said. "That's why thousands of concerned individuals, companies, and organizations have joined us in supporting this bill. Now is the time for meaningful patent reform."

President Barack Obama's administration also voiced support for the bill Monday. "The bill would improve incentives for future innovation while protecting the overall integrity of the patent system," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

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