The Crackdown on Patent Trolls


war with patent trollsBack in the day when someone speaks of troll people think of large creatures with thick skin wielding huge wooden clubs. Today, trolls are referred to people that rouse trouble over the internet.

However, there is also another kind of troll that exists outside the web. And no, they aren’t wielding clubs. They’re armed with something a lot more damaging than that: lawsuits.

Patent Trolls

This problem is a huge headache, especially for people involved with technological innovation.

To make matters short, patent trolls are people that come up with ideas, bind the idea legally to them – patenting it in their name – and then suing the living daylights out of people should they use those ideas in the future or even if they use technologies encompassed by that idea.

A patent infringement case was even filed against someone using WiFi, and in another case, large fans.

These companies don’t really invent or sell anything. They make money by threatening companies with patent infringement. Small and big businesses alike had been hit by these patent trolls.

“Wait, are they winning these nonsensical lawsuits?”

No, but it doesn’t even have to go to court. Defendants often chose to settle as fighting against the lawsuits would cause hundreds, if not, millions of dollars.

I know, it’s really, really, ridiculous.

So ridiculous, in fact, that in 2012, of the 4,700 patent lawsuits filed, 3,000 were from patent trolls. It was found out that these kind of litigations cause investors an estimated half a trillion dollars since 1990. Half a trillion!

Senate Crackdown

The light in the tunnel is that the Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a version of the Patent Act. The bill protects businesses like start-ups and building contractors from patent trolls by making it more difficult for them to file lawsuits.

It also places a limit on the amount of work each side has to make in producing evidence significant to the case. It can be noted that these work, or “discovery”, is the reason why businesses chose to settle as they can’t afford its lengthy process.

Furthermore, the bill forces the losing side of the case to pay for the cost the winning side has expended during the whole process.

While the bill hasn’t been made into a law, it’s getting closer to being one.

Jaw-Clenching Changes

However, supporters of the bill were furious after a last-minute addition which alters a facet of the patent system.

A tactic, known as post-grant review, allows companies to challenge the validity of a patent. With this companies can ask the Patent Trading Office to review the patent in which the suit is based.

Unfortunately, critics of the review process stated that it isn’t difficult to get a patent invalidated. Thus, provisions were added that could lead to fewer patents be rendered null. Supporter of the bill are still trying to find ways to strengthen the now botched post-review process before it finally steps on the Senate floor.

Another good news for tech advocates is that another bill, called Innovation Act is, is also on the works. One benefit of this bill is that it forces patent trolls to be more transparent with their identities.

Let’s just hope that these two bills would be enough to stomp out these leeches that have been sucking the blood out of big and small companies for years.