House panel approves bill targeting patent trolls

The bill aims to make it more difficult for patent licensing firms to file lawsuits against other businesses

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Some committee Democrats complained that the bill would hurt legitimate small inventors by making it more difficult for them to file lawsuits against big companies that infringe their patents. The bill sets up a set of rules "to deal with trolls that will now apply to everyone operating in this space," said Representative Mel Watt, a North Carolina Democrat.

The bill is one-sided in dealing with patent lawsuit abuse by plaintiffs, but not defendants, Watt added. The bill would not stop large defendants from drowning small inventors in a "barrage of tactical motions," he said. "Abusive tactics are not the exclusive domain of plaintiffs or even patent trolls."

The committee debated and amended the bill in a meeting that lasted nearly nine hours Wednesday.

Democrats Watt and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan tried to amend the bill by requiring that Congress stop taking patent filing fees from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to use elsewhere in the U.S. government's budget. The diversion of tens of millions of dollars from the USPTO is a "tax on innovation in this country," Conyers said.

One of the biggest issues facing the U.S. patent system is bad patents being awarded by an underfunded USPTO, added Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat. If Congress could fix that issue "everything else we're doing would be less necessary," he said.

The committee's Republican majority defeated the patent fee diversion amendment, with Goodlatte arguing that its addition would run afoul of House rules prohibiting most committees from moving legislation that include new spending. The amendment would be a "poison pill" for the Innovation Act on the House floor, he said.

The bill does not deal with recently discussed efforts to curb licensing fee demand letters from PAEs. Goodlatte, chairman of the committee, said he would continue to work with other lawmakers who want to see the committee discourage controversial practices used by PAEs in mass mailings of demand letters.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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