House takes up bill aimed at fighting 'patent trolls'

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 05, 2015 5:31 PM

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Key Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives joined with a smattering of Democrats to introduce a bill on Thursday aimed at reducing frivolous patent litigation.

The bill is identical to a measure that passed the House overwhelmingly in December 2013 but stalled in the Senate because of objections from Senator Harry Reid, who set the chamber's agenda. With the Senate now in Republican hands, the bill's chance of becoming law has improved.

The measure is aimed at reining in "patent trolls," companies that buy or license patents from others, then demand licensing fees or file infringement lawsuits.

The bill encourages judges hearing patent cases to make a company pay fees if the lawsuit it files is deemed frivolous. The bill would also require companies filing these lawsuits to detail what patent is infringed and how it is used.

The bill also targets much-criticized patent assertion entities for practices like sending large numbers of licensing demands to small businesses without determining if they actually use infringing technology.

"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," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte in introducing the measure that he has spearheaded.

"The Congress must act to curb abusive patent litigation," said Goodlatte, who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The White House has also expressed support for the legislation.

Joining Goodlatte in introducing the bill were Republican Representatives Peter DeFazio, Darrell Issa and Lamar Smith as well as Democratic Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo.

Despite the broad support for the measure from tech companies and bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, some critics worry that the bill could hamper small companies whose patents are genuinely infringed and who sue to fight that infringement.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Andrew Hay)