from the it-would-appear-there's-some-appetite dept
Another day, another proposal for patent reform in Congress, once again targeting patent trolls (in part). Already this year, we’ve seen Rep. DeFazio push for fee shifting to make trolls pay legal expenses for bogus lawsuits, Rep. Deutch introduce a bill to force patent trolls to stop hiding anonymously behind shell companies, Senator Schumer seek to make it easier to quickly dump bad patents and Senator Cornyn put a bunch of these ideas together in a bigger anti-troll bill. Most of these have been introduced in the last month or so. We can now add a new proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, head of the House Judiciary Committee, who has released a patent “discussion draft” that includes a number of issues it’s trying to fix.
Goodlatte’s proposal, like many of the others, has some good things in it, but is pretty weak overall, trying to skirt around the overall troll problems. The bill would certainly be a step in the right direction, but hardly a decisive one. Like Deutch’s bill, this one would make it harder for trolls to hide behind shells, and then would do a bunch of things to try to decrease the costs for those who are sued. This would definitely be helpful, because it’s the cost of fighting back, even if a company is sure it doesn’t infringe, that leads many companies to just pay up to settle. The general estimate we hear is at least $1 million for just the district court case.
The good news is that it is increasingly clear that massive patent reform is back on the table, even with the last comprehensive patent reform bill, the America Invents Act, passing less than two years ago. At the time, we pointed out that the bill did nothing to deal with the troll problem, and it seems clear that many in Congress recognize patent trolling is a problem that needs to be dealt with quickly. Having five bills introduced — four within the last few weeks — and many by prominent members of Congress who have the ability to push a bill through, suggests that there really is an appetite in Congress to take on the trolling issue.
The bad news is that the existing proposals could go much, much further, and don’t. There’s nothing like an independent invention defense (or independent development as evidence of obviousness), or any effort to seek out peer review of patent proposals — both of which would cut down on many bad patent trolling shakedowns. Furthermore, having watched the messy debate over the America Invents Act, which went on for about seven years (possibly more, depending on how you count), we saw some good ideas in initial drafts watered down more and more year after year, until the final AIA was effectively useless. If we’re already starting with relatively weak proposals, once they go through the ringer and the pharmaceutical companies (mainly) strip out the parts they don’t like, we may be in for another toothless bill. Hopefully, this is a sequel with a twist ending, and something real and effective can actually become law.