Never let it be said that the FTC moves particularly fast. After putting patent trolls on notice
back in 2011, it finally announced plans to investigate trolls
in June of this year. And now it's revealed a few details of its plans
, starting with using its subpoena powers to look into the details of 25 (unnamed) trolling operations. Of course, so far this investigation is just to produce a "study" of patent trolling. Though, as it points out, the FTC's powers mean it can get information that regular researchers don't have access to:
The proposed study would add significantly to the existing literature and evidence on PAE behavior. Earlier studies have focused primarily on publicly available litigation data and concluded that PAE litigation activity is on the rise. The Commission, however, has unique Congressional authority to collect nonpublic information, such as licensing agreements, patent acquisition information, and cost and revenue data, which will provide a more complete picture of PAE activity.
It has an initial list of research questions that it will explore:
- How do PAEs organize their corporate legal structure, including parent and subsidiary entities?
- What types of patents do PAEs hold, and how do they organize their holdings?
- How do PAEs acquire patents, and how do they compensate prior patent owners?
- How do PAEs engage in assertion activity (i.e. demand, litigation, and licensing behavior)?
- What does assertion activity cost PAEs?; and
- What do PAEs earn through assertion activity?
The FTC is now seeking public comment on these plans
, so feel free to weigh in. It's important to remember that while this process may appear to be slow (and nothing is going to happen for a very long time), it's good to see the government investigating this important issue (abuse of patents) while also being careful and cautious about it. Even when we agree that there's a massive problem (and patent trolling is a huge tax on innovation and the economy), having the government react in a kneejerk fashion could make the problem worse, not better. Having more information, and being able to really zero in on the actual problems, makes it more likely that solutions will be well targeted, rather than quick duct tape patches to try to cover up symptoms.