Senate Patent 'Troll' Bill Introduced

A Senate version of "patent troll" legislation was introduced Wednesday (April 29), even as the House Energy & Commerce Committee was debating its effort to rein in abusive patent letters.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the PATENT Act.

“Abusive patent litigation is a threat to our economy and costs consumers and businesses billions of dollars each year. Too often, small business owners are being targeted for doing nothing more than using off-the-shelf products."

"These types of frivolous lawsuits cost them millions of dollars and force them to settle despite having a strong defense,” Grassley said. “The meaningful reforms in our bipartisan bill are needed to ensure that the innovation and entrepreneurship our patent system was designed to protect isn’t undermined.”

Both Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to crack down on patent letter abuses, where hundreds or thousands of letters are sent in hopes that some percentage of recipients without the patent attorney muscle and resources to fight will just send money. But the issue is balancing the rights of patent holders who don't want those rights weakened, and companies who have the wherewithal to defend against troll letters, with smaller businesses and nonprofits who are most likely to pay out of fear or lack of funds.

According to Leahy's office, the Senate bill 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."

A summary of the bill is available here.

On the House side, a patent "troll" bill, which would create a national regime for addressing abuses of the process, passed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Wednesday (April 29), but with both sides agreeing it needed work before it hits the House floor.

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.