|By Gobble, MaryAnne M|
Patent Reformers Take on the Trolls
The past 15 months have seen the most significant changes to the US patenting process in over 60 years, with the 2013 enactment of the America Invents Act, which was intended to harmonize the American patent system with the intel- lectual property regimes of the rest of the world. This year, patent applicants face yet another sea change in Ameri- ca's approach to protecting intellectual property.
The Innovation Act, which passed the
The reforms arrive at a time when the cost of patent litigation is increasing rapidly, driven in part by the activities of NPEs, often called patent trolls. A recent study by
The America Invents Act (AIA) in- cluded some provisions intended to simplify the patent process and, thus, reduce litigation and associated ex- penses. Perhaps the largest change in- troduced by AIA required the Patent Office to award patents to individuals who file applications first rather than those who could prove they were first to invent a patentable idea. That ad- justment, which puts the US system more in line with other industrial countries, also eliminated complex processes to determine priority among nearly simultaneous inventions.
The legislation represented an ini- tial response to concerns about the bur- geoning number of lawsuits against patent holders and the perception that the existing system permitted well- heeled infringers to outlast poorly funded start-ups that owned patents. During debate on the issue, opponents charged that the new system would benefit large technology companies with efficient-and expensive-patent offices. But the need for simplification overcame those objections.
The number of patent cases, how- ever, has continued to grow. The rea- son, according to supporters of patent reform: the act did not go far enough in countering patent trolls.
One thing has changed since the pas- sage of AIA; NPEs appear to have ex- panded their target group. "The targets of these lawsuits are no longer just large high-tech companies, as used to be the case," Black notes. Small and medium- sized businesses outside the technology arena now find themselves in the spot- light. Facing high legal fees, Black says, "many choose to settle even though they believe it is wrong, rather than face bankruptcy."