The White House is scheduled to announce several executive orders and legislative proposals today aimed at patent trolls, who harm U.S. businesses and the economy. President Obama has recognized that the nation can’t curb abuse of the patent system by so-called trolls without addressing problems with software patents, and this afternoon he’s offering reforms.
Congress has held hearings and introduced legislation to discourage relatively meritless lawsuits, which do need to be enacted. Five of the measures the White House is proposing are executive orders that could provide immediate relief to some of the problems with trolls.
Perhaps the most important executive order targets overly broad patents and would give patent examiners the training and the tools they need so they will refrain from approving those patents to begin with. The goal would be to eliminate a large group of poor quality patents so trolls won’t have the tool to abuse the system in the future. Other proposals would help address the problem of trolls using threats of legal action on shaky grounds to extract money from legitimate companies that can’t afford to go to court.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association has been asking for major reforms for a decade as we have seen the use of patents as an anticompetitive tool accelerate. The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:
“These White House proposals should offer real relief for companies that for too long have had to navigate a draining, expensive and unfair regulatory system that has become unbalanced by those seeking to abuse it. The Administration’s announcement is recognition that the patent system is out of control and not functioning as its founders intended. The patent system is no longer about rights, or even who is right in court, but too often who has the funds to use the legal system and patents as weapons against innovative US companies. We need a balanced patent system that is based on a true cost benefit analysis of this regulatory regime intended to promote not hinder innovation.
The following can be attributed to CCIA patent counsel Matt Levy:
“The most important order, and perhaps the most difficult to understand, is the Executive Order ‘Tightening Functional Claiming.’ This could help disarm some future trolls by staunching the flow of new overly broad software patents.”
“A patent ‘claims’ an invention, which means that no one is allowed to make or use the invention without the patent owner’s permission. A patent claim is the part of the patent that describes the invention, and it has to be clear and accurate. But a big problem with many software patents is that the claims only describe the features of the invention in broad terms instead of what the inventor actually did. That’s how we get patents that cover the idea of backing up your computer over a network, which was the patent that NPR covered in “When Patents Attack!” It’s like claiming the idea of an automobile when all you built was a go-cart. The President’s executive action should prevent trolls from running over businesses by claiming their patent covers wheeled personal transportation when all they invented was a go cart.”
For more, see Matt’s blog post in Patent Progress.