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03 August 2012, 09:48

US Congress: New initiative to combat patent trolls

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Patents icon Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republican Jason Chaffetz have submitted a bipartisan bill to the US House of Representatives which proposes that the losing party in an IT patent lawsuit should bear all the legal costs. Currently, costs are often shared by both parties. The "Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes (SHIELD) ActPDF" would allow an unsuccessfully challenged defendant to walk away without any financial burdens. This might make potential claimants think twice before going to court.

With this bill, DeFazio mainly aims to discourage patent trolls. "Patent trolls don't create new technology and they don't create American jobs," said the Oregon representative. "They pad their pockets by buying patents on products they didn't create and then suing the innovators who did the hard work and created the product". A single lawsuit "may easily cost over $1 million" for defendants, added the representative.

The bill is limited to patents that cover hardware or software for computers and other IT systems. It defines a software patent as a patent that covers "any process that could be implemented in a computer regardless of whether a computer is specifically mentioned in the patent." This also includes systems that can be programmed to perform such a process. The bill expressly omits the highly controversial question of whether "computer-implemented inventions" should be patentable at all, stating that it does not aim to amend the substantive patent law.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) civil rights organisation, which is itself trying to reform the intellectual property rights system and is currently in the process of gathering suggestions, has welcomed the initiative. Members of the US House of Representatives had already tried to create obstacles for patent trolls within the "America Invents Act" but were unable to secure majorities. As a consequence, the bill that was eventually passed only covered aspects of general patent reform.


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