Lawmakers considering more changes to patent laws

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U.S. lawmakers, influenced by companies including Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., Cisco Systems Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., are considering the second set of patent-law changes in three years as the courts try to race ahead of Congress.

The goal is to rein in entities that buy patents and demand royalties from as many companies as possible. Often derided as “trolls,” such firms filed 19 percent of all patent lawsuits from 2007 to 2011, the Government Accountability Office found.

Finding a balance among protecting products from knockoff competition, rewarding inventors for making their ideas public and limiting nuisance suits has been debated for more than 200 years, even more so now that some lawsuits are targeting users of ubiquitous technology like email and Wi-Fi.

“There’s just a lot of pressure being put on Congress and the courts to address the abusive practices,” said Tom Molino, head of government relations for BSA - the Software Alliance, based in Washington, whose members include Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. “Both sides are trying to assert their authority where they can to move the dial.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering when to penalize patent owners for filing questionable claims, while the federal courts’ administrator has proposed disclosure rules that may lessen litigation costs.

The legislation Congress is considering would do some of the same things — make patent companies pay the other side’s legal fees if they lose and tell the courts to change their discovery rules.

“You do not need Congress to mandate things courts are already willing to consider,” Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles all patent appeals, said in a Sept. 17 speech to the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

Three-way split

The struggle between the courts and Congress has divided companies along the lines of who gets sued more often.

Google Inc., Cisco and other technology companies in the Coalition for Patent Fairness back legislation introduced Oct. 23 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee. It would allow collection of legal fees from licensing companies that lose at trial and require they provide more details about patents and how they were infringed.

Companies like Qualcomm Inc. that own many patents and make money from licensing them say weakening patents would hurt their business. The Qualcomm-backed Innovation Alliance seeks limited congressional action, and is pushing lawmakers to stop diverting money from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is funded entirely by user fees.

The Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform — made up of General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly and other patent holders — says the Goodlatte bill takes some power from courts.

Venue struggle

Industries reliant on patent protection for revenue, which include technology companies, drugmakers, and manufacturers, had 3.9 million jobs and accounted for $763 billion, or 5.3 percent of gross domestic product, in 2010, according to a 2012 Commerce Department report.

Patent litigation is expensive. The cost of defending a patent suit through trial, not including damages, starts at about $650,000 and can reach several million dollars, an American Intellectual Property Lawyers Association study found.

Goodlatte said at an Oct. 29 hearing his bill is the bailiwick of Congress and “the Supreme Court has long recognized that the prescription of court procedure falls within the legislative function.”

Some companies say Congress is getting it wrong.

“You’ve got this incredibly powerful organized lobby that wants to kill innovation because it’s a threat to them,” said Loudon Owen, chairman of I4i LP, a Canadian designer of software for drug companies that won a $200 million verdict against Microsoft in 2011.

2011 law

A wide-ranging patent law passed in 2011, called the America Invents Act, started as a push by companies like Microsoft to make it easier to challenge patents and limit damage awards. Those provisions never made it in the final law — because the courts addressed the issues.

Microsoft curtailed its push for legislation after winning three court rulings between 2007 and 2011 that limited damages in patent suits.

The public debate “leads to legislative changes where legislative change is needed,” said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s head of intellectual property. “It crystalizes issues that can be resolved by courts in a faster and more effective way.”

Sledgehammer, scalpel

Companies are spending millions to influence lawmakers. In 2011, three groups alone spent $2.4 million lobbying on the America Invents Act. So far this year, they’ve spent more than $1.1 million, according to Senate disclosure records. That doesn’t include campaign contributions or media buys.

The Coalition for Patent Fairness and the National Retail Federation, a Washington trade group, paid for a newspaper advertising campaign deriding “patent trolls” this year. Innovation Alliance responded with “Who’s Trolling Who,” saying “fringe abuses” are being used to weaken patent rights.

The Supreme Court announced Oct. 1 it would hear two cases that would make it easier for targets of patent suits to collect attorneys’ fees, which could deter groundless lawsuits.

The Federal Circuit is considering whether patent owners can block competitors from selling products based on a finding of infringement of a feature of a complex device — such as a way to scroll through pages on a smartphone.

The courts are limited because “they only can deal with the facts of the cases and legal questions presented before them,” said Mark Chandler, general counsel for San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco.

While Goodlatte is pushing his committee to vote on the proposal quickly, the companies’ split over certain segments may give the courts time to tackle the so-called trolls.

“In general, courts are always a better way to fix things than Congress,” said Ron Laurie, managing director of Inflexion Point Strategy, which counsels companies on intellectual property. “Congress uses a sledgehammer and courts use a scalpel.”


  • Another Victory
    for the corpocracy.
  • insidious
    'The goal is to rein in entities that buy patents and demand royalties’ Their goal is more complex and insidious. Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is. “patent reform”…America Invents Act, vers 1.0, 2.0, 3.0… “This is not a patent reform bill” Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) complained, despite other democrats praising the overhaul. “This is a big corporation patent giveaway that tramples on the right of small inventors.” Senator Cantwell is right. All these bills do is legalize theft. Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is. The paid puppets of banks, huge multinationals, and China continue to brain wash and bankrupt America. They should have called these bills the America STOPS Inventing Act or ASIA, because that’s where they’re sending all our jobs. The patent bill (vers 1, 2, 3, etc) is nothing less than another monumental federal giveaway for banks, huge multinationals, and China and an off shoring job killing nightmare for America. Even the leading patent expert in China has stated the bill will help them steal our inventions. Congress passed it and Obama signed it. Who are they working for?? http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/08/11/former-governors-lobbying-consulting-revolving-door/2639355/ Patent reform is a fraud on America. Congress and Obama are both to blame. This bill will not do what they claim it will. What it will do is help large multinational corporations maintain their monopolies by robbing and destroying their small entity and startup competitors (so it will do exactly what the large multinationals paid for) and with them the jobs they would have created. They have already damaged the US patent system so that property rights are teetering on lawlessness. This bill will only make it harder and more expensive for small firms to get and enforce their patents. Without patents we cant get funded. In this way large firms are able to play king of the hill and keep their small competitors from reaching the top as they have. Yet small entities create the lion’s share of new jobs. According to recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and economists at the U.S. Census Bureau, “startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth. They’re the only thing.” Meanwhile, the large multinationals ship more and more jobs overseas. This bill is a wholesale destroyer of US jobs. Those wishing to help fight this bill should contact us as below. Small entities and inventors have been given far too little voice on this bill when one considers that they rely far more heavily on the patent system than do large firms who can control their markets by their size alone. The smaller the firm, the more they rely on patents -especially startups and individual inventors. Congress and Obama tinkering with patent law while gagging inventors is like a surgeon operating before examining the patient. Those wishing to help fight big business giveaways and set America on a course for sustainable prosperity, not large corporation lobbied poverty, should contact us as below and join the fight as we are building a network of inventors and other stakeholders to lobby Congress to restore property rights for all patent owners -large and small. Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html for a different/opposing view on patent reform. https://www.facebook.com/pi.ausa.5 http://piausa.wordpress.com/ http://washingtonexaminer.com/patent-reform-like-most-reforms-in-the-end-benefits-the-biggest-guys-with-the-best-lobbyists/article/2524033 http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/142741

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.