My organization, Southeastern Employment Services, helps people with disabilities find employment opportunities in the state of Connecticut. Several years ago, I started receiving threatening legal letters from shell companies in Delaware that claimed we were infringing their patent for using the scan-to-email function on our copier – a common technology found on many such machines in offices around the country. I’m proud of the work that we do to give back to our state and its citizens, but as a result of these threats I thought I would have to close my doors for good.

My business is not the only one facing such challenges. The patent troll problem costs our economy billions every year and prevents companies from investing in jobs and local growth. However, Congress has the opportunity this session to crack down on patent trolls and put an end to one of their most harmful tactics: venue abuse.

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Patent trolls – companies that do nothing to produce beneficial goods and services, but rather make money by buying overly broad patents they then use to sue businesses – have manipulated the patent system to give themselves enormous power.  Under current patent law, trolls can bring patent infringement lawsuits in courts with no connection to the parties in the litigation, a fact they use to select the courts well-known for their friendliness to patent trolls and willingness to award huge settlements. These provisions do nothing for defendants other than push them to settle with the trolls rather than risk engaging in a protracted and expensive legal battle they don’t have a fighting chance of winning.

The court of choice for most patent trolls is the Eastern District Court of Texas (EDTX), which has been the number one venue for patent litigation for nearly a decade. This reputation means that the tiny EDTX saw 44 percent of all patent infringement cases filed in the entire U.S. in 2015, with one judge overseeing more than a quarter of all cases in the country; twice as many as the next most active patent judge. Delaware, where the patent troll I faced had set up shell companies, is the next most active jurisdiction and also has a reputation for plaintiff-friendly behavior.

Congress now has an opportunity to right this unbalanced and unjust patent litigation system by passing venue reform legislation. In July, more than 40 patent law academics and economics experts wrote a letter to the heads of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees urging them to “address the significant problem of forum shopping in patent litigation cases” and noting that “this type of dynamic is bad for patent law, and bad for United States innovation.”

I have experienced first-hand the costs associated with the excessive power patent trolls wield under our patent system. My business is luckily still standing, but I am always afraid that I could receive another threatening letter. I have not been able to hire employees that I otherwise would have, and these threats have hurt my business and distracted from our ability to serve Connecticut communities. If the trolls had been successful, I would have had to close my doors, close to 80 people would have lost their jobs, and people with disabilities would have lost our services. I was able to hire a patent attorney and ultimately fight back, but too many businesses have been forced to cut their losses, lay off workers and close their doors, leaving the trolls free to extort their next victim.

American businesses deserve the opportunity to thrive. It has never been more critical that Congress close the gaping loopholes in our patent system that have allowed trolls to flourish. If you want to learn more about my experience, you can find my story and the stories of other businesses around the country that have faced similar threats on DontBullyMyBusiness.com. Once you learn more about our experiences, I am confident you will understand why I am fighting so strongly for Congress to pass legislation that helps small businesses defend themselves against patent trolls.

Patent reform has historically attracted high levels of bipartisan support, and the prospect of passing venue reform this year is still alive. That’s why I am urging Congress to support this legislation. In doing so, they are standing up for all the innovators, entrepreneurs and small businesses who contribute directly to the well-being and prosperity of America.

Roberta Hurley is the owner of a staffing agency in Connecticut that helps people with disabilities find employment opportunities.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.