Obama Administration declares war on patent trolls

5 Jun 2013

The daft tit-for-tat patent wars may finally become a thing of the past and real innovation may flourish again thanks to bold new steps issued by the White House aimed at protecting innovators from frivolous litigation and root out the patent trolls.

Today US President Barack Obama’s administration issues several legislative recommendations that it believes will improve incentives for future innovations via hi-tech patents, drive economic growth and result in well-paying jobs in America.

The moves come as Samsung just secured a trade ban by the International Trade Commission (ITC) against Apple’s earlier iOS devices including the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2 that had been customized to work on AT&T’s network.

The decision by the ITC might have been bruising for Apple but could be extremely awkward and embarrassing for Samsung in the light of the new legislative recommendations and the fact that President Obama has the power to invalidate the ITC’s decision within 60 days.

Efforts at reforming US patent law have been gathering pace in recent years but the Obama Administration has been arguing for the pace to increase to match the sheer pace of technological innovation.

In 2011 the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) was signed into law to make the patents system more efficient and reliable.

Ironically it was after this that the ridiculous patent wars consisting often of spurious claims and a target rich environment for patent trolls came into being.

The global nature of the patent battles between Apple and Samsung as well as other smartphone manufacturers if anything only serve to stifle innovation by new and emerging entrepreneurs and scientists who don’t have the deep pockets of the multinational corporate giants.

In February Obama said that existing laws needs to be improved.

“Our efforts at patent reform only went about halfway to where we need to go. What we need to do is pull together additional stakeholders and see if we can build some additional consensus on smart patent laws.

Time for common sense patent laws

The White House in particular pointed to Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) otherwise known as “patent trolls” who in President Obama’s own words “don’t actually produce anything themselves” and instead develop a business model “to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.

The White House also points out that in the smartphone patent wars several major companies involved spend more on patent litigation and defensive acquisition than on R&D, which are having a drain on the US economy in terms of job creation and innovation.

The new measures proposed by the White House include five executive actions and several legislative recommendations.

The measures – which can be accessed here – include legal recommendations such as disclosure of real party-in-interest when filing a patent claim, courts to have more discretion in awarding attorney fees, changing the ITC standard for obtaining an injunction and better transparency to curb abusive lawsuits.

Executive actions include protecting main street retailers and ordinary consumers from attacks from patent trolls, the development of new patent laws and a review of standards in terms of the enforcement of exclusion orders by the ITC.

Patent law image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years