White House pushes new patent actions

The Obama administration on Thursday convened members of the tech industry to push a new set of executive actions aimed at combating “patent trolls.”

The actions announced Thursday are part of President Obama’s continued push to protect the economy from companies that make money by collecting patents and then threatening infringement lawsuits.

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The White House announced Thursday that it would be building off of previous executive actions and calls for legislation with three new administration actions.

The first is a push to have companies publicly catalogue their “prior art,” or the technical details about the technologies they’re already using. These catalogues would give examiners at the Patent Office more information about what technologies are already in use and therefore shouldn’t be awarded patents.

The administration also called on tech companies to help train Patent Office examiners and announced an increase in its pro bono services for small inventors who can’t afford legal resources.

“Our country simply must support our trailblazers who make breakthroughs in their garages and dorm rooms,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said.

National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said the administration developed these actions “over months”  and “considered dozens of proposals and settled on actions we thought we could take that would make a difference.”

Sperling also told attendees of Thursday’s event that both legislative and administration patent reform measures continue to be a priority for Obama, citing last month’s State of the Union address, during which the president repeated his calls for reform.

“The State of the Union is very expensive policy real estate,” Sperling said, making it no “small deal that the president chose to make his call for patent legislation one of the things that he put in the State of the Union.”

In addition to the administration making it a priority, the president has “hope for bipartisan action,” Sperling said, repeating the president’s calls to Congress to finish a patent reform bill.

He pointed to the House, which passed the Innovation Act, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), last year. Currently, the Senate is considering a bill from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

In the House, “we have seen some very constructive bipartisan action,” Sperling said, and “there’s no reason that there shouldn’t be that same ability to work together in the U.S. Senate.”

Sperling mentioned specifically two patent reform provisions that have created division among patent reform advocates: calls to expand an existing post-grant review process to software patents and a proposal to have courts adopt a “loser pays” system for frivolous patent infringement lawsuits, where the losing party would pay the winning party’s legal fees.

“We’re not here to try to negotiate where that sweet spot for compromise is, but there is one,” Sperling said of those and other contentious patent reform provisions.

Pritzker echoed that call for Senate action. “We need the Senate to act,” she said.

A Leahy aide said that the senator is pleased with the White House for bringing stakeholders together and continuing to support patent reform.