Senator scraps legislation targeting patent trolls

There's wide disagreement on how to deal with abusive patent lawsuits, Leahy says

Legislation aimed at curbing so-called patent trolls may be dead until 2015 after the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee pulled the bill off the committee's agenda, citing a lack of consensus.

Patent trolls, those businesses that use patent infringement lawsuits as their primary business model, remain a large problem, but there's wide disagreement on ways to combat abusive patent lawsuits, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement.

Leahy, the lead sponsor of a bill targeting patent trolls, wanted "broad bipartisan support" before moving forward with a bill in the Senate.

"Regrettably, competing companies on both sides of this issue refused to come to agreement on how to achieve that goal," he said. "Unfortunately, there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions."

Leahy said he's heard significant concerns about the Innovation Act, approved by the House of Representatives in December.

"We have heard repeated concerns that the House-passed bill went beyond the scope of addressing patent trolls, and would have severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders who employ thousands of Americans," he said.

The House bill would require plaintiffs in patent infringement lawsuits to identify the patents and claims infringed in initial court filings, in an effort to reduce complaints about patent trolls filing lawsuits with vague patent claims. The bill would also allow judges to require that losing plaintiffs pay defendants' court fees.

Legislation targeting patent trolls has been the focus of intense lobbying on both sides in recent months.

Several large tech companies and trade groups have pushed for Congress to make it more difficult for patent trolls, or patent-assertion entities, to file infringement lawsuits, saying these patent holders are increasingly targeting small businesses and customers in patent lawsuits.

In April, about 400 companies and groups, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, signed a letter calling on the Senate to pass legislation targeting trolls.

"Abusive patent litigation is killing small companies, chilling employment and growth of all companies, and stifling the economies of a wide range of industries nationwide," the letter said.

But some inventors have urged Congress to back off, saying proposed legislation targeting patent trolls also hurts legitimate small inventors. In April, advocacy groups Edison Nation and the Alliance for U.S. Start-ups and Inventors for Jobs asked Leahy and other senators to reject a version of the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act that the Judiciary Committee was considering.

An amended version of the bill would have threatened the survival of small inventors, the groups wrote. "It is the small, ingenious inventors, startup entrepreneurs and university faculty and students who envision and develop the future inventions that grow our technology economy," the groups wrote. "These are the people who require patent protections from giant competitors who routinely copy their inventions after they are proved to be valuable."

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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