Apple, Microsoft, IBM team up for patent protections

Major tech companies including Microsoft and Apple are teaming up to advocate for strong patent protections as patent reform efforts heat up on the Hill.

Microsoft, Apple and IBM joined with GE, Pfizer, DuPont and Ford on Thursday to launch the Partnership for American Innovation "to highlight the value of intellectual property and patents to U.S. jobs and the economy."

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According to the release announcing the group, it will focus on promoting strong patent protections, highlighting the role of those protections in the global economy and pushing for the Patent and Trademark Office to be fully funded.

The group is being advised by former Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos, now a partner at Cravath, Swaine and Moore.

In a statement, Kappos said he has seen "firsthand the significant role the patent system plays in encouraging inventors, promoting investment in innovation, and creating jobs."

“Now is not the time to gamble with America’s innovation engine — once patent protections are eliminated, they cannot be restored," he said.

The group's creation comes as Congress is considering reforms aimed at "patent trolls," or the companies that profit by bringing and threatening to bring meritless patent infringement lawsuits. While some say the patent litigation system needs to be changed to protect innovators, others worry that changes to the system could remove intellectual property protections for legitimate inventors.

Late last year, the House passed the Innovation Act, a bill from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that, among other things, took aim at patent trolls by requiring more transparency in infringement suits and increased the costs of bringing meritless cases. IBM and Microsoft both supported the version of the Innovation Act that passed the House.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee is considering a bill from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is currently working with other members of the committee — including Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) — to include more dramatic and contentious provisions.

After a week and a half of delays as negotiations between members continue, the committee is slated to mark up Leahy's compromise bill on Tuesday.

Kappos lamented the current pressure to reform patent law based on "patent troll" fears.

“It is in our country's best interest to have a patent system that rises above short-term interests, and creates long-term gains for all sectors of the economy," he said.

"We must move beyond rhetoric that 'the system is broken and trolls are bringing businesses to a complete halt' to a discussion of calibrated improvements for what is actually the best patent system our planet has."