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Senate Judiciary Marking Up Patent Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up the Patent Act Thursday (June 4), a Senate version of "patent troll" legislation, an issue getting lots of attention in both the House and Senate.

A mark-up is a business meeting during which legislators amendend a bill and usually vote on whether to send it to full Senate for a vote.

The bill, which was introduced April 29 by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and which is supported by broadcasters, retailers, realtors and others, would create a national standard for what is a deceptive patent demand letter, and give the FCC civil penalty authority to enforce that, as wellas enforcement authority for attorneys general. The bill also protects customers of patented technologies by making manufacturers the litigators, say Intel over one of its chips rather than JCPenney for using it in a bar code reader.

It also shifts attorneys fees to non-prevailing parties under some circumstances, and makes it easier to recover fees.

The bill has been tweaked, but basically, according to Leahy's Web site, it would:

1."Establish a clear, uniform standard for pleading patent infringement suits.

2. Increase transparency in patent ownership.

3. Target the widespread sending of frivolous demand letters.

4. Support customers who are sued for patent infringement by allowing the case against them to be stayed while the manufacturer litigates the suit.

5. Deter abusive litigation practices and ensure bad actors can be held accountable when they hide behind shell companies.

6. Address the high cost of discovery in patent suits.

7. Improve resources for small businesses that are targeted in patent infringement suits."

The Innovation Alliance, whose members include Qualcomm and Dobly Labs, has concerns that the bill, even with improvements made since it was introduced, still makes it harder to enforce patents to the detriment of "inventors and entrepreneurs who form the bedrock of our innovation economy."

"While we welcome improvements in the PATENT Act over legislation introduced in the Senate last year with respect to issues such as discovery and demand letters, and as compared to patent legislation now pending in the House (H.R. 9), several of the provisions in the PATENT Act, even as amended, would jeopardize the value and enforceability of all U.S. patents and risk serious damage to the economy, job creation, and the future of U.S. innovation," the alliance said in a letter to Leahy and Grassley.

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.