Reform Bill Takes Aim At Patent Trolls, Pisses Off Conservatives Instead

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Congress is considering patent reform legislation designed to discourage frivolous infringement suits, but some conservatives claim the bill excessively weakens property protections.

Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte announced in a press release Thursday that he would re-introduce the Innovation Act, which passed the House with bipartisan support in 2013 but stalled in the Senate. (RELATED: Congress’ Patent Reform Efforts Don’t Go Far Enough)

“In recent years,” Goodlatte said, “we have seen an exponential increase in the use of weak or poorly granted patents by patent trolls to file numerous patent infringement lawsuits against American businesses with the hope of securing a quick payday,” forcing companies to spend resources on legal defense that could otherwise be spent on “innovating and growing their businesses.”

The Innovation Act would require plaintiffs to disclose the owner of the patent in question and provide courts with their legal reasoning at the start of infringement cases, which Goodlatte says “will ensure that patent trolls cannot hide behind a web of shell companies to avoid accountability for bringing frivolous litigation.”

In addition, the bill “requires courts to make decisions about whether a patent is valid or invalid early in the litigation process,” and when a case is declared frivolous, forces the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s legal fees.

“With our current patent laws being abused in ways that are threatening the survival of American innovation,” Goodlatte argues, “Congress must act to curb abusive patent litigation.” (RELATED: Patent Reform Splitting Republicans, Business Community)

Some patent experts, though, contend that patent trolls are not as big of a problem as advocates of U.S. patent reform make them out to be.

Intellectual Asset Management Magazine reported Wednesday that although law firms turned to “exceedingly profitable patent trials” in the immediate aftermath of the recession to make up for lost corporate and financial clients, “that work has been drying up for some time.”

Recent academic research, IAM claims, has found that after a drop in filing numbers in 2014, the current rate of patent litigation filings is roughly equivalent to what it had been five years earlier.

Other conservative critics have focused on the bill’s implications for intellectual property protections, saying innovation will suffer without sufficiently strong patent laws. (RELATED: The Conservative Case Against Patent Reform)

Adam Mossoff, a law professor at George Mason University, claims the legislation “weakens and devalues the patents of all inventors working throughout America’s innovation economy … creating unprecedented hurdles for all owners of patented innovation who seek redress in court against infringers of their property rights.”

“For over 200 years, the patent system has been the engine of America’s unrivaled innovation economy,” Mossoff continues, saying, “Congress should tread very carefully before making massive changes to the patent system lest it disrupt or harm American innovation.”

Some conservatives are also suspicious that the Innovation Act is largely consistent with the type of patent reform President Obama has long supported. (RELATED: The Conservative Case for Patent Reform)

“While the American Conservative Union has always supported sound efforts to curb litigation abuses,” said ACU executive director Dan Schneider, “conservatives must ask themselves why they would ever support an Obama initiative aimed at reducing property rights.”

Erik Telford, interim president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, said in a statement that, “Congress should not follow the Obama administration’s lead in adding patent ‘reform’ to the long list of government takeovers that harm innovation and the American economy.”

“Weakening our patent regime will make it easier for emerging economies—like China and India—to steal our innovative breakthroughs and eclipse our economic standing,” he charged, calling Goodlatte’s patent reform bill “a cure that is worse than the disease.”

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