The Obama administration announced its progress on improving the patent system this week through a number of initiatives, though the status of reform legislation in the Senate remains uncertain.
The White House is tackling the “patent troll” battle head-on.
This week, the Obama administration announced that it had made significant strides in its efforts to improve the patent system, which has gained a reputation for legal headaches and high-stakes battles in recent years. Having launched a task force to tackle U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues with high-tech patents in June, the administration renewed its call for “meaningful legislation” while highlighting executive branch initiatives. More details:
Help for those facing suits: Beyond offering status updates on regulatory efforts, such as proposed rules to enforce additional transparency for patent applicants and more training for patent examiners, the USPTO announced a new patent litigation portal page designed to help those facing infringement lawsuits understand their rights and find out more details about why they’re being sued. “Unsuspecting retailers, consumers, small businesses, and other users of products containing patented technology have increasingly found themselves targeted by letters alleging patent infringement and demanding money—even in instances where a small business is using an off-the-shelf product,” a fact sheet on the program issued by the White House communications office explains.
Crowdsourcing efforts, legal help: The administration also announced a handful of new executive actions. A public-private effort the fact sheet calls “Crowdsourcing Prior Art” will allow patent examiners to seek public input on whether prior art—technical information determining whether or not an invention is new—exists for patents being challenged. “This effort will focus on driving valuable contributions to the patent process and to patent quality, strengthening a process that is vital to innovation and economic growth,” the fact sheet states. The administration is also working to make it easier for small businesses to receive legal assistance when filing a patent application, as well as offering examiners better access to technical training.
Associations positive: Trade groups largely praised the administration’s progress—particularly the National Retail Federation. NRF Senior Vice President David French called the moves important but noted that there’s only so much the White House can do on its own. “Patent litigation reform will require tough policy choices and decisions, and ultimately the power rests with Congress to solve the patent troll problem,” French said in a press release. The Association for Competitive Technology, which represents app developers, said the initiatives will help “improve patent quality at the beginning of the process,” and the Consumer Electronics Association said the administration’s support of patent reform “gives hope that this year our nation’s businesses will hire more workers rather than more lawyers.”
Meanwhile, patent reform continues to work its way through the Senate. Despite House passage of the Innovation Act in December, the bill faces an uphill battle in the other chamber.