Senate Fails to Wrangle Patent Trolls

by Matt Klassen on June 2, 2014

It was almost a year ago to the day that President Obama promised swift and decisive action against patent trolls, tough talk against those nasty little patent assertion entities whose sole purpose it is to profit off protecting their intellectual property.

While arguing that many of these patent trolls are nothing more than extortionists, who thrive off the innovation and creativity of others, the President promised “smarter patent laws,” forming a Senate subcommittee to start investigating this issue and urging Congress to start improving an outdated and ineffective patent system that currently allows for companies to horde intellectual property for the purposes of suing others, stagnating innovation and stalling development. It didn’t work.

Despite the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee was about to consider a final draft of a bill that apparently had bipartisan support, it seems the differences between those involved in this debate were still to formidable to resolve amicably, and so after months of negotiating the bill was abruptly removed from the calendar, meaning nothing changes for the foreseeable future.

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., removed patent law reform legislation from the committee’s calendar “because there is not sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal.” Leahy noted that he is still optimistic that some resolution can be found in this matter, but given the depth of the disagreement and the removal of the legislation from the calendar likely means any “swift and decisive” changes to patent law will have to wait another year.

For many in the IT industry, which is the overwhelmingly the most popular target for patent trolls, this news comes as a considerable setback, as such patent assertion entities have long hamstrung grassroots innovation among tech startups with their threats of legal action, often times regarding ambiguous patent infringements. As Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, argues, “Every day that reform is delayed is a win for patent trolls.”

In fact, President Obama seemed legitimately concerned about the rash of patent trolls claims made over the past few years, arguing that these companies often abuse the patent process and the court system to shakedown innocent investors, entrepreneurs, and end users. Unfortunately the concern of the most powerful person in the world doesn’t seem to matter these days, particular when confronted with a deeply divided partisan bureaucratic process.

That said, much of the opposition to this bill came from the private sector, voices that decried the overly burdensome requirements on documenting every instance of every violation was too much to ask, as was how the proposed bill would interfere with the warranted protection of one’s intellectual property. For opponents of the bill this delay in passing new legislation was not the tragedy many in the IT world construed it as, but simply a justified delay to create a truly workable solution. Score one for the patent trolls I guess.

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