Cisco, Ford urge crackdown on patent trolls

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Rubin said lawmakers should make clear that the ITC should consider a Supreme Court decision, eBay v. MercExchange, when weighing patent cases. Since that case was decided, district courts have rarely awarded injunctions.

"Doing so would align the ITC with traditional principles of equity set forth in the Supreme Court’s eBay decision," Rubin said in written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

David Kelley, intellectual property counsel for Ford Motor Co., echoed the call for Congress to step in.

"Some believe that the ITC has the ability to fix this problem without statutory change," Kelley said. "There is no evidence that it will do so."

The ITC has been at the center of recent patent battles among prominent tech companies, such as Google-owned Motorola Mobility and Microsoft. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week examined the practice of patent holders going to the ITC to secure an exclusion order that would bar gadgets from entering the United States. 

Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) noted how patent disputes have reached a fever pitch.

"It's time for the patent wars to find patent peace," Watt said. "They are a drain on the economy."

Colleen Chien, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, noted that many companies bring patent infringement cases to the ITC "to get the injunction you can't get in the federal court." She added that the ITC typically litigates on a faster basis than federal courts do. 

To that end, IP subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) noted in his opening statement that there has been a spike in the number of cases over the last decade brought to the ITC by non-practicing entities — organizations that purchase patent portfolios that don't manufacture or build the technology. The number of defendants named in these cases has also been on the rise. 

"This begs the question of whether certain parties are flocking to the ITC in the wake of the stricter joinder rules and other provisions enacted as part of the America Invents Act," Goodlatte said.

But not everyone on the witness panel called for Congress to consider reforms for the ITC. Bernard Cassidy, general counsel for microelectronics developer Tessera, said the trade forum is doing an effective job. 

"We don't think it's fair to characterize it as a tool that's used for patent hold up," said Cassidy. "I'm hesitant to think what it would be like if we weaken the ITC. It would be discriminatory against other companies that have IP rights in the U.S."