The term “patent troll” tends to be thrown around a lot when talking about Apple, Samsung, et al.’s endless patent litigation, but there’s a big difference between companies trying to protect their patent profiles in court and the sort of trolls who exist for no other reason than to sue other companies for violations on overly broad patents that they aren’t using, stifling innovation (for example, notorious in-app patent troll Lodsys).
Reforms to the patent system to neuter patent trolls is something that have been called for for years, but it seems like President Obama is finally doing something. The White House has just announced that they are taking on the patent troll problem with seven new legislative proposal. But even if Congress won’t budge? Obama says he’s going to take five executive actions to thwart patent trolls, which he can do even without congressional approval.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great write-up on what Obama intends to do about patent trolls. Here are the five executive actions the White House intends on taking:
Fix transparency: requiring patent owners to update records at the Patent Office with the patent’s real owner. Taking away secrecy takes away one of the patent troll’s favorite weapons.
Empower downstream users: ending the abuse associated with targeting end users, such as small businesses, startups, and even individuals who find themselves facing lawsuit threats and licensing demands for simply using everyday products. As the White House puts it: “End-users should not be subject to lawsuits for simply using a product as intended, and need an easier way to know their rights before entering into costly litigation or settlement.” We couldn’t agree more.
Expand dedicated outreach and study: working with members of the community, including third-party stakeholders, to address flaws in the system. This would include increasing scholarly programs at the Patent Office, something that if done right could have a direct positive effect on patent quality by bringing in big thinkers to address systemic problems at that office.
Strengthen enforcement of exclusion orders: streamlining procedures for imported goods that are found to infringe U.S. patents.
This is a really good start, and if the White House can get Congress to agree to the other seven proposals, patent trolls will have an even harder time pressing frivolous lawsuits. For example, one of the legislative proposals involves making it easier for courts to make losers pay when they bring frivolous lawsuits.