Small tech companies fight patent review expansion

Congress should not open up software patents to further scrutiny, a group of small businesses said in letters to members of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Committee held a hearing Tuesday on Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) recently-introduced Innovation Act, which attempts to curb abuse of the patent litigation system through transparency and accountability measures.

Most in the tech community support Goodlatte’s bill for its transparency and accountability measures, but there is disagreement over how the bill should deal with patents that can face extra scrutiny at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Some feel the ability to challenge vague and broad patents will protect innovators from patent trolls’ lawsuits, while others say the added review can weaken intellectual property protections.

Small tech companies are worried about the way Goodlatte’s bill opens up certain patents to additional scrutiny at the Patent Office, “while supporting many of the provisions in the proposed legislation,” according to Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive Technology. Zuck’s group represents small tech businesses and is sponsored by tech giants including Apple and Microsoft.

In the letters, the small tech companies warned Goodlatte and House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) against expanding the group of patents that are eligible for the extra review from the Patent Office.

“By expanding the reach of the program to include software patents … the proposed legislation would place an even greater burden on small businesses,” they said.

Companies that want to challenge software patents would still have “to retain an attorney who can not only address the claims in court but also stay the case and file a review with the USPTO, which does not have the desired outcome of reducing costs on small businesses being sued by patent trolls,” the letters said.

Additionally, the additional review would create costs for small businesses looking to protect their own intellectual property, the group wrote.