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White House takes steps against patent trolls

The Obama administration launches a website to help businesses that receive demand letters

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The U.S. White House will launch new efforts aimed at combating abusive patent lawsuits, including a website to assist defendants of patent lawsuits brought by so-called patent trolls.

President Barack Obama's administration on Thursday launched a website at USPTO.gov/patentlitigation with information to assist people and businesses targeted in patent lawsuits or receiving patent demand letters.

The website may be the first aimed at assisting defendants and recipients of demand letters from patent assertion entities (PAEs), businesses that have patent lawsuits and demand letters as their primary business model, said Michelle Lee, deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The White House also announced it would launch a new crowdsourcing initiative focused on identifying prior art, evidence of existing inventions that the USPTO can use to reject bad patent claims.

The White House will also expand a USPTO patent examiner technical training program by allowing outside technologists to help with the training and it will expand pro bono resources available to assist inventors who lack legal representation in filing patent applications.

Abusive patent lawsuits by PAEs are a drag on the U.S. economy, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council in the White House, said during a patent reform event there. "We felt that we had no choice but to take action in this area -- action that would encourage innovation over costly and often abusive litigation," he said.

The Obama administration believes the new actions will steer businesses toward innovation, added U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. "America's entrepreneurs and businesses want to focus their time and resources on R&D, on growth, on hiring, not wasting money in our courtrooms," she said.

Many tech vendors have called in recent months for patent reform legislation focused on making it harder for PAEs to file patent lawsuits. PAE critics say the number of lawsuits filed by that type of company has exploded in recent years.

Several tech groups praised the White House moves. Microsoft has launched its own patent tracker tool and prior art initiative in an effort to add transparency to its patents, and "is ready to partner with others to ensure the [USPTO] is equipped to perform its delicate and increasingly technologically complex role," Horacio Gutierrez, the company's deputy general counsel, wrote in a blog post.

New action is needed to combat patent trolls, added Morgan Reed, executive director of trade group the Association for Competitive Technology.

"Improvements in the way that applications are reviewed will help prevent bad patents from being awarded and used against small companies," he said by email.

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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