There's a new game on Capitol Hill: Whack-a-Troll!
via Flickr © eirikso (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In recent years the high-tech and comms sectors in the US have been badly distorted and disrupted by so-called "non-practicing entities" that buy-up and hoard patent rights and then, rather than actually applying them for the purposes for which they were designed, use them as tools through which to extort "compensation" payments out of other companies by threatening expensive lawsuits for spurious patent violations. It is rotten and, at last, action is being taken to put a stop to what, all too frequently is a nice little (or not so little) earner that, in many cases, is tantamount to blackmail.
Yesterday a new bi-partizan Bill was brought forward in the US Congress that, when passed, "in six months or less", will whack the trolls where it hurts - right in the pocket book. The idea is that a new Patent Act will bring credibility back to the patent system by stopping "abusive litigation processes."
The patent trolls stifle innovation by demanding ludicrous sums in so-called "compensation" and scare companies into paying by threatening to sue and embroil their victims massively expensive and prolonged court cases. In one particularly nasty case a couple of years ago many hundreds of US businesses (small and large) were deluged by a tsunami of what can only be described as threatening letters demanding compensation of US$1000 per employee - for using scanners to transmit documents by email.
For once both Democrats and Republicans are in agreement that something must be done and say that the new Bill will pass both Houses and "prevent bad actors from further undermining the patent system." Congress adds that the "commonsense reforms that are to be introduced will improve transparency around patents, deter frivolous claims, hold bad actors responsible, establish clear, uniform pleading standards, tackle demand letters and put reasonable limitations on discovery." I'd like to know who the bad actors are though, wouldn't you? Suggestions are welcome. My Number 1 is Dick van Dyke for his East London accent as Bert the chimney sweep in Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins".
Cor Blimey! Luv a Duck! "Ave a butcher's at me, old fruit! I'm a Cock-er-nee, dont'cha know. Chimcheroo up the apples and pears, me old china!
Recent research by PriceWaterhouseCoopers concluded that patent trolls are now behind an astonishing 67 per cent of all patent lawsuits. Back in 2010 it was (a still unacceptable) 28 per cent. The trolls have been making money hand-over-fist for years now and it is fit and meet that their deplorable antics are to ber outlawed. What seems to have finally spurred the unusual bi-partizan action is that the trolls are now having a big impact on "mainstream America," by targeting small business and even "Ma and Pa" Main Street stores and diners in the US heartlands. That way trouble lies.
Chuck Schumer a New York Democrat member of the legislature says, "This is the year we will finally pass patent reform. Patent trolls have perverted the system for too long." He added, "There will be special interests that will oppose this but for the good of America, we will pass it. I mean, what's next? Restaurants being sued for using spoons?"
The trolls and their lawyers won't like the upcoming pay cut, but as Senator Orrin Hatch a Utah Republican said "We are doing this. In six months from now, we will all be at the White House as President Obama signs the bill."
It's good news but one does have to smile, or at least grimace, at the ways in which US bureaucratic authorities and general and the legislature in particular, twist, mangle and convolute the English language in an effort to give a law, such as the Patriot Act for example, a catchy shorthand name. Thus "Patent Act" has been torn kicking and screaming from the innards of "Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship", while the TROL legislation is a real doozy. It comes from the "Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters Act." Gordon Bennet! As Bert would say, twirling his sooty brush up and down the Khyber.