Senate Commerce Committee joins patent troll debate

The Senate Commerce Consumer Protection subcommittee will hold a hearing next week on abuses of the patent system.

The hearing will focus on demand letters, which a patent-holding entity sends to companies or individuals alleging patent infringement and demanding money or threatening legal action.

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“Many small businesses have paid the demands, even if they have not violated any patents, because of the high costs associated with the patent dispute process and potential litigation,” the committee wrote in the hearing announcement.

“Compounding the problem is the lack of basic disclosures and specificity in the demand letter that would allow recipients to make informed decisions, leaving consumers vulnerable to abuse.”

Recently, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced a bill that would require more disclosures from companies bringing patent infringement lawsuits. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the coming weeks.

Pre-litigation demand letters “fall squarely within the committee’s jurisdiction,” said Julie Samuels, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who will be testifying.

“Until recently patent law hasn’t so directly impacted consumer interests,” she said.

“What’s really changed is that more and more trolls are targeted end-users and consumers for using off-the-shelf technology.”