Senate Judiciary Schedules Patent Reform Hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on patent litigation abuse (so-called "patent trolls") on March 18, the committee said Wednesday (March 11).

No word on witnesses for the hearing, which is entitled “The Impact of Abusive Patent Litigation Practices on the American Economy,” but the Senate just this week confirmed a new head of the Patent and Trademark Office, Michelle Lee, who had already been running the office as deputy director in the absence of a director.

There has already been a lot of action on the patent abuse front in this Congress, including the introduction by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) of the STRONG Patents Act, which the senator argues "would make it harder for firms to be targeted with frivolous patent lawsuits, level the playing field between small inventors and large companies, and ensure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has the resources it needs to ensure patent quality."

Elsewhere on the patent abuse front, the Consumer Electronics Association last week joined the Patent Reform Coalition, which is urging passage of a revival of the Innovation Act, which was passed by the House in the last session of Congress, but not the Senate.

The patent troll-targeted bill was reintroduced last month by House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Joining Goodlatte on the bill were House 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 the so-called 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.

Broadcasters, cable operators, and tech companies are united in their praise for legislation targeting nuisance claims, which Rep. Latta has said account for $29 billion in frivolous lawsuits per year.

But not everyone is celebrating the new legislative efforts.

In a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which have jurisdiction over the issue, a group of economists said they had deep concerns. "Unfortunately, much of the information surrounding the patent policy discussion, and in particular the discussion of so-called 'patent trolls,' is either inaccurate or does not support the conclusions for which it is cited," they wrote, including that $29 billion figure.

"Those bent on attacking 'trolls' have engendered an alarmist reaction that threatens to gut the patent system as it existed in the Twentieth Century, a period of tremendous innovation and economic growth," they said.

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.