White House asks for help on patent reform

The White House on Thursday is expected to push companies to pitch in on patent reform.

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The administration wants companies to create databases of their “prior art” — or the technologies that they already use — to give patent examiners a resource they could turn to when reviewing new applications, according to people familiar with the Obama administration’s plans.

The hope is that the databases would cut down on the number of patents that are granted for technology that is already in wide use.

The White House is hosting an event Thursday that will include Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Michelle Lee, deputy director of the Patent and Trademark Office.

The meeting will highlight “the administration’s commitment to strengthening the patent system to ensure it encourages innovation and invention, inspires and rewards creativity, drives investment and spurs job creation,” the White House said.

The focus on increasing patent quality comes as policymakers increasingly turn their attention to “patent troll activity,” the term used to describe patent infringement lawsuits and threats of infringement lawsuits over vague, unoriginal patents that arguably shouldn’t have been issued.

If companies make more information about their prior art available, Patent Office examiners can avoid granting the vague, unoriginal patents commonly used by “patent trolls,” according to Jon Potter, president of the Application Developers Alliance, who plans to attend Thursday’s meeting.

As major players in the tech industry wonder “how do we get the examiners smarter. … It’s important for companies to be a part of the solution, not just identify the problem,” Potter said.

Patent stakeholders also expect the White House to use the meeting to focus attention on the patent reform legislation pending in Congress.

The House passed the Innovation Act — authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) — last year, and the Senate is currently considering a bill from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The Senate panel recently concluded a series of staff briefings on the more contentious provisions that members are attempting to attach to Leahy’s bill, including requiring the losing party to pay the winner’s legal fees in frivolous patent infringement cases and expanding a patent review program to software patents.

One patent reform advocate said he anticipates the White House’s afternoon event would focus on the areas of patent reform where there is agreement, including reforms that would make it more costly to bring frivolous patent lawsuits.

“We hope that the administration will highlight the things where there is consensus,” the advocate said.