Business

New Year, New Effort: Patent Reform Supporters Regroup Under New Coalition

After a lengthy effort to reform the patent system stalled in the Senate last year, a new "super-coalition" led by the National Retail Federation hopes to show that the reform efforts come with massive industry support.

Patent reform might not have gotten through Congress last year, but the fight against so-called patent trolls is getting more organized.

Last week, the National Retail Federation (NRF) joined with companies across the spectrum in launching United for Patent Reform, a new coalition that hopes to push through patent reform at a time when support appears to be flagging. (For one thing, President Obama didn’t mention it during the State of the Union address this week, though Michelle Lee, the acting head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, says the administration remains committed.)

Beyond the NRF, the coalition includes a number of trade groups—the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the National Association of Realtors, the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Home Builders, and the Coalition for Patent Fairness. But also on the list are numerous companies, some of which have not previously taken part in the patent debate, such as J.C. Penney and Macy’s, as well as tech giants Facebook and Google.

To ease the burden on business owners, the coalition members have put their support behind a series of measures—including, among others, the reform of demand letters by patent owners, the requirement that patent owners pay for discovery requests, and the creation of alternatives to costly litigation in patent disputes.

In comments on the effort, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said that while supporters of patent reform have earned some hard-fought victories in recent years, including the House’s passage of the Innovation Act in 2013, further steps must be taken.

“The urgent need for comprehensive change has not lessened since the House passed the bill 13 months ago,” Shay said in a news release. “Although the Supreme Court heard an unprecedented number of patent cases last term—a testament to the fact that our patent system needs reform—those decisions have not deterred the abusive strategies employed by patent trolls who continue to exploit the patent system.”

The Innovation Act’s success didn’t translate to the Senate last year, with that chamber’s Patent Transparency and Improvements Act getting tabled back in May. Part of the reason for this was the rise of fresh opposition that appeared after the Senate bill was introduced, creating a debate over the details that stalled the bill.

But NRF hopes that its coalition’s sheer scale—the organization says that the coalition could possibly contain “hundreds” of members—might be just the push supporters need to get legislation over the hump.

“This is really a super-coalition,” NRF Vice President of Government Relations Beth Provenzano, a co-chair of the coalition, told The Washington Post last week. “It’s really big. It’s an attempt to get the pro-reform side really working closely together.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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