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House passes bill aimed at curbing patent trolls

The Innovation Act, opposed by some inventors, next heads to the Senate for action

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The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill meant to discourage so-called patent trolls from filing multiple infringement lawsuits or demanding licensing deals over the objections of some groups representing small inventors.

The Innovation Act, which passed Thursday by a 325-91 vote, has the support of several large U.S. technology companies as well as advocacy groups Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate for action.

Despite the lopsided vote, some lawmakers said the bill favors large companies at the expense of small inventors. "This is a gift to the giant conglomerates that can already push you down," said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat.

With the bill, Congress is "attacking the little guy," added Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.

Still, several tech groups applauded the bill's passage. The legislation "should send a powerful message to patent trolls that their continued abuse of the patent system and extortion of American businesses will not be tolerated," the Internet Association, representing Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, eBay and Yahoo, said in a statement.

The Innovation Act, sponsored by Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, targets businesses that use patent licensing and lawsuits as their primary source of revenue. Critics blame these patent assertion entities (PAEs), often called patent trolls, for a growing number of patent infringement lawsuits in U.S. courts and a flood of patent settlement demand letters.

The bill would require plaintiffs in patent infringement lawsuits to identify the patents and claims infringed in initial court filings, in an effort to reduce complaints about PAEs filing lawsuits with vague patent claims. The bill would also allow judges to require that losing plaintiffs pay defendants' court fees.

In addition, the bill would allow courts to delay massive discovery requests from patent infringement plaintiffs until the patent claims have been interpreted by the court, and it would allow manufacturers and suppliers to intervene in patent litigation against their customers. In recent years, some PAEs have targeted end users of technologies that allegedly infringe their patents in an effort to collect more patent license fees or court awards.

Several groups representing inventors, venture capitalists and U.S. colleges have opposed the bill, with some saying that it has been rushed through Congress in about a month.

This week, inventor Dean Kamen, founder of Deka Research and Development, spoke out against the bill. "The patent system has been a main driver of keeping the U.S. economy ahead of the rest of the world since this country was formed," he said during a press briefing. "Any bill that tinkers with the main engine of innovation ought be looked at very, very carefully and not whipped along."

The bill would "dramatically increase the barriers" for small inventors to protect their intellectual property, he added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.



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