Let’s defend innovators against patent trolls

Posted by Suzanne Michel, Senior Patent Counsel

Patent trolls are hurting consumers and small businesses. Patent trolls don’t make anything of value to consumers, but rather extract profits from lawsuits against productive companies. Suits brought by trolls have quadrupled since 2005. They now account for 60% of all patent litigation and are disproportionately targeted at small businesses. In 2011 alone, companies spent $29 billion fighting trolls. That’s money that should have gone towards building great products, or creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to solving the troll problem, but Congress and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) are taking steps in the right direction.

The trolls’ weapons of choice—used in 85% of their suits—are software patents, many of which are vague, overbroad and invalid. The PTO should improve patent quality by requiring better descriptions and clearer claims. Today at a PTO-sponsored event in New York, I spoke on how better application of established legal principles can help to curb the issuance of overbroad software patents.

We’ve also been encouraged by the PTO’s new partnership with the software community and its recent call for public comment on improving patent quality. The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are also looking at the serious threat posed by trolls to both innovation and competition. As President Obama explained in his recent Fireside Hangout, trolls “don't actually produce anything themselves, they're just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else's idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.”

Congress should also make it easier for companies to recover money spent defending against frivolous troll suits. Legislation, such as the bipartisan SHIELD Act re-introduced this week in the House, can do much to reduce troll litigation. And expanding the covered business method program of the America Invents Act to include more patents would create a robust alternative to litigation.

We look forward to continuing to work with the PTO, Congress and the software industry to find ways to improve patent quality, end the growing troll problem, and protect innovation and job growth.