White House meets with tech companies, advocates on patent reform

The White House held a meeting Thursday with tech companies and advocacy groups to discuss issues with the U.S. patent system.

They focused on “recent work aimed at combating patent trolls’ abuse of our Nation’s strong protections for intellectual property,” a spokesman from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) said in a statement.

Patent trolls are companies that profit off their patents for nonexistent services or products by bringing or threatening to bring infringement lawsuits against others.

Thursday’s stakeholder meeting discussed “the Administration’s executive actions and legislative priorities, announced in June, and recent developments in Congress,” the spokesman said.

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Bills to change the patent litigation system are gaining momentum in Congress, including a bill from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and a companion bill from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that is expected to surface in the coming weeks.

The meeting — led by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council — included White House senior officials as well as participants from the Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Commerce and “a diverse group of about 20 stakeholders from small and large companies, industry associations, civil society and academia,” the spokesman said.

According to attendees, those stakeholders came from all sides of the patent reform debate.

Groups pushing for broader reforms, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Application Developers Alliance, attended as well as patent-holding companies — such as Microsoft and 3M — which have urged Congress to be cautious when revisiting patent laws, attendees said.

There was “a wide range of stakeholders” present, said Julie Samuels, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s “really wonderful that so many voices” were represented, she said.

“It really felt like the White House was listening, and it’s clear that the White House really cares,” she said. “And we’re thrilled about that.”

Ultimately, the group agrees something has to be done to prevent abuse of the patent litigation system, one stakeholder said. 

“There’s widespread agreement that things are moving quickly and people want them to move quickly.”

The OSTP spokesman said the administration is looking to answer “the urgent call from across America to deliver narrowly-tailored, common-sense reforms that can ensure our economy remains focused on innovation, not litigation.”