I think that we can all agree that patent trolls are just about the worst. Even if you have no stake in the tech sector, frivolous litigation aiming to make a quick buck off of somebody else's innovation hurts consumers in more ways than one. After years of ignoring the problem, it looks like Congress is finally starting to notice the ill effects as well.
The Hill reports that the House has overwhelmingly passed the Innovation Act today in a 325-91 vote. The bill targets those who have come to be known as "patent trolls." It does this by creating a whole new set of hoops that those seeking to file a patent suit would have to jump through. Before passing the final bill, the House voted to pass an amendment that would increase the number of hoops.
To further dissuade individuals and companies from filing frivolous lawsuits, the legislation would also require courts to award fees to the winner. This is called the "loser pays" provision, and it's set up to stop a common tactic used by patent trolls that seeks to not win a lawsuit, but simply force the defendant into bankruptcy through attorney fees and related charges. Under this provision, defendants no longer have to worry as much about money when challenging a patent claim.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, said its passage helps to correct a patent system that was never meant to be used in such a way:
"The tens of billions of dollars spent on settlements and litigation expenses associated with abusive patent suits represent truly wasted capital. The patent system was never intended to be a playground for litigation extortion and frivolous claims."
As expected, the bill did have some opponents though. One of the most outspoken - Rep. Dana Rohrabacher - argued that the bill would hurt small inventors defending their patents from large companies. She also holds the belief that the term "patent troll" was invented by large companies to smear small patent holders.
While it's impossible to say that small patent holders will be completely immune to ill effects from the legislation, it's important to note that this legislation is primarily aimed at protecting these small patent holders. The legislation protects the defendant which is usually the small patent holder, not the other way around.
As a compromise, the House passed an amendment that will study the effects of the legislation on small and minority-owned businesses. If disturbing trends of abuse come to light, Congress can come back to reevaluate the legislation.
We're getting ahead of ourselves though. The legislation has only just passed the House and now it has to make its way through the Senate. Thankfully, the Obama administration has stated its support for the bill in the past which should make its passage through the Democrat-controlled Senate rather painless.[Image: Wikimedia Commons]