Patent Troll Legislation Reintroduced

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is reintroducing the bipartisan Innovation Reform Act of 2015. An earlier version of the bill passed the House in December 2013, but was eventually pulled off the Senate Judiciary Committee calendar in May of 2014 by then-chairman Patrick Leahy.

Joining Goodlatte on the bill according to various supporters of the legislation are Communications Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.); Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

The bill is meant to crack down on so-called patent trolls by requiring lawsuit plaintiffs to specify which patents are at issue and what products they allegedly infringe and by allowing a court to require the loser in a patent case to pay the winner's costs if the case was not reasonably justified.

Leahy agreed that patent trolls were a problem, but was looking for a more targeted bill.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is ‘part of the American character’ to ‘invent and execute; to find means within ourselves, and not to lean on others," said Latta, himself an inventor with 37 patents--he founded anti vehicle-theft device company Directed Electronics.

“But increasingly, Americans’ find innovation obstructed, with attempts to enter the marketplace frequently shutdown by well-funded ‘patent trolls’ who exploit loopholes in our patent system, bullying inventors and small businesses with frivolous lawsuits to the tune of $29 billion each year," he said. "I am thankful to Chairman Goodlatte for his leadership on legislation that aims to restore the American patent system to its original purpose: catalyzing, rather than curbing, a new generation of great American ideas.”

Broadcaster, cable operators and tech companies were all praising the bill's reintroduction.

"NAB applauds House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) and his colleagues for their introduction of bipartisan legislation that advances the cause of patent reform," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Broadcasters support legislative efforts to curb abusive patent practices that harm our nation's economic growth and cost jobs. We look forward to working with chairman Goodlatte and other congressional leaders to improve our patent system."

"We commend chairman Goodlatte on the introduction of patent legislation, the Innovation Act," said the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. "It is essential that we deter patent trolls and halt unjustified patent litigation so that American companies can continue to innovate, generate new jobs and expand the economy. We look forward to working with chairman Goodlatte and the bipartisan cosponsors towards passage of this important legislation."

Computer & Communications Association President Ed Black agreed. "Many complain about gridlock in Washington. We finally have a bill that would create a bit of gridlock for patent trolls' extortion schemes," he said. "This bill would make it less profitable for patent trolls to sue and set up speed bumps for those unfairly targeting everyone from legitimate US companies to those buying an item like a printer from a store. Goodlatte's patent reforms would help bring some needed information to those unfairly targeted by patent trolls — requiring trolls to provide more details about their infringement claims and reveal who is paying for their legal antics."

"With a committed Congress and White House rallied around the issue, I am hopeful that this will be the year Congress protects American businesses and innovators from extortionate patent trolls," said Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro. "We applaud the bipartisan group for introducing the Innovation Act, which will hold patent trolls accountable for their frivolous lawsuits and baseless threats. The immense amount of money spent fighting bogus patent lawsuits amounts to a massive tax on consumers and a drain on investment, American innovation and job creation. The unchecked growth of patent trolls harms the U.S. economy — bleeding another $1.5 billion every week — and makes it difficult for American businesses to compete internationally."

"Unlike innovators who create, patent trolls exist to exploit flaws in our patent laws with dubious claims to sue legitimate startups and technology companies for billions of dollars each year," said the Information Technology Industry Council. "The bipartisan patent reform bill introduced today would put the brakes on trolls and their dash for cash. Instead of frivolous lawsuits, that money could be better spent on research into new breakthroughs that result in new jobs being created."

"We applaud Chairman Goodlatte’s leadership in introducing the Innovation Act today and urge Congress to pass comprehensive patent reform," said Kevin Kramer, VP and deputy general counsel for Yahoo!. "The bipartisan support for this legislation — including cosponsors Reps. Goodlatte, DeFazio, Issa, Nadler, Smith (TX), Lofgren, Chabot, Eshoo, Forbes, Pierluisi, Chaffetz, Jeffries, Marino, Farenthold, Holding, Johnson (OH), Huffman, Honda, Larsen— is encouraging and shows the tremendous desire to fix a broken system.  

"The Innovation Act includes key provisions that will greatly reduce the ability of patent trolls to abuse the patent litigation system in a way that imposes a needless burden on the courts, our company, and innovation." 

Charles Duan, director of patent reform at Public Knowledge, joined the chorus of praise.

"Public Knowledge applauds the reintroduction of the Innovation Act," said Duan."The bipartisan passage of this legislation last year shows that abuse of the patent system by patent trolls is not going unnoticed. Patent trolls have taken advantage of the system to the tune of $80 billion dollars each year, and their impact on entrepreneurs, startups, and consumers is unparalleled. Public Knowledge looks forward to Congress passing this bill to better the lives of inventors and consumers.”

“Verizon applauds Chairman Goodlatte’s introduction of the Innovation Act, which passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support. This legislation contains important reforms to the patent litigation process that will help protect businesses large and small from entities that are using patents to tax innovation," said Verizon SVP, federal government relations.

“TechNet appreciates the bipartisan leadership of Reps. Goodlatte (R-VA), DeFazio (D-OR), Issa (R-CA), Eshoo (D-CA) and Smith (R-TX) and their sustained commitment to stopping the systematic abuse of the patent system by predatory lawsuits that have one objective: pressure American innovators to settle lawsuits rather than face costly litigation," said Linda Moore, president and CEO of TechNet.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.