UPDATED 08:10 EDT / MAY 24 2013


Patent Abuse Reduction Act Aims To Shoot Down Trolls

The fightback against patent trolls is picking up steam with new ammunition materializing in the form of Texas Senator John Cornyn’s newly introduced Patent Abuse Reduction Act of 2013.

According to Cornyn, the bill is designed to act as a deterrent to patent trolls in several ways:

“This bill would require plaintiffs to disclose the substance of their claim and reveal their identities when they file their lawsuit; allow defendants to hale into court interested parties; bring fairness to the discovery process; and shift responsibility for the cost of litigation to the losing party. These reforms will deter patent litigation abusers without prejudicing the rights of responsible intellectual property holders.”

In a nutshell, the legislation will make it much more difficult for trolls to use their standard tactics of launching multiple litigation suits against their targets via an array of corporate chimeras. In addition, it’ll deter trolls from pressing ahead unless they’re absolutely certain they have a case – if they lose, they’ll be forced to pay for the entire costs of the suits they bring.

The bill has been backed by a number of organizations that have taken the fight to patent trolls in recent months. One of the most vocal of these is Rackspace, currently embroiled in its own patent war with the notorious trolls IP Nav and Parrallel Iron, which mask themselves “full service patent monetization” companies. Coming out in support of Cornyn’s bill, Rackspace’s chief counsel Alan Schoenbaum praised it as an “extremely powerful new weapon”.

“This bill is a breath of fresh air in the battle against patent trolls and their brazen abuse of the patent system,” added Schoenbaum.

“At Rackspace, we’ve been on the front line of the problem; patent trolls have become our most pressing legal issue. We have seen a 500 percent spike since 2010 in our legal spend combating patent trolls.”

Elsewhere, the Consumer Electronics Association and the Electronic Frontiers Foundation also voiced their support, while the Internet Association, made the following statement:

“[the bill is] a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion about how best to put an end to abusive patent litigation practices and to promote, rather than burden, real innovation in today’s internet economy.”

All well and good, but Cornyn’s bill will only be useful if it’s actually passed into law, which begs the question – what are the chances?

One of Cornyn’s biggest obstacles is that although he’s a member of the Judiciary Committee, he’s also a Republican, which puts him squarely in the minority. However, he would seem to have the support of President Obama at least, who has signalled recently that he’s looking into ways of reforming US patent law. It’s reasonably safe to presume that Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, is aware of Obama’s comments. However, even if Leahy does support Cornyn’s bill, it’s by no means certain that it’ll be passed into law, with at least two other bills put forward by Democrats also floating around Washington.

Nevertheless, what we do have is a clear signal that both the Democrats and the Republicans agree that something needs to be done about the patent trolls – exactly what that amounts to and when it will happen remains to be seen.

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