McCaskill wants help from patent troll whistle-blowers

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wants to hear from employees of patent troll law firms.

During a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection hearing Thursday, the chairwoman said she is considering legislation that would create more transparency around patent troll law firms and the demand letters they send.

Demand letters are those that patent trolls send to businesses and consumers, accusing them of patent infringement and threatening lawsuits if the recipients don’t pay licensing fees.

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McCaskill said she is considering crafting legislation with subcommittee ranking member Dean Heller (R-Nev.) that would create a registry of these demand letters.

McCaskill said the bill would have to be “limited in scope” and have bipartisan support.

Julie Samuels, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said during the hearing that Congress should step in to make sure these demand letters are recorded and catalogued.

Businesses and consumers should be able to research the entities sending the demand letters, but recipients are often afraid to publicize the fact that they’ve received the letters. Congress should step in “to give those companies some cover so that they’re more willing to share the data,” Samuels said.

McCaskill said she wants perspective from someone working at one of these “factories that are churning out these demand letters.”

“Someone is working in one of these ‘law firms,’ ... and we would welcome a whistle-blower that is inside one of these entities,” she said.

“Your identity and where you work would be protected if you can give us a dirty inside glance.”

McCaskill questioned testimony from Adam Mossoff, senior scholar at George Mason University’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property. In his testimony, Mossoff argued that the patent troll problem is overblown.

Patent reform advocates often rely on anecdotal evidence and call for massive reforms on shoddy and selective data, he said.

“How in the word do we get past anecdotal if we let these scam artists, these bottom feeders, work in the shadows?” McCaskill asked.

McCaskill also challenged Mossoff on the assertion that the people receiving these demand letters have access to the legal resources they need.

Legal clinics that make legal resources accessible for small businesses in Missouri are “on life support,” she said.

“I know nowhere that small businesses in Missouri can call. Should we just give them your phone number?”

Mossoff pointed to law schools that offer resources in partnerships with the Application Developers Alliance.

Jon Potter, president of the Application Developer’s Alliance and fellow witness at the hearing, argued that the law students are no match for patent trolls’ sophisticated legal teams, despite the students’ best efforts.

Participating law schools “make one or two law students available to us for a couple of hours a week,” he said. 

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