Tech groups want more from Goodlatte on patent reform

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The draft should require companies suing for patent infringement to be more transparent in documents exchanged before litigation and should create a way for companies being sued to more easily challenge overly broad software patents, tech groups said.

“Reform should include demand letter transparency and a cheaper, faster, administrative way to invalidate bad patents,” the Application Developers Alliance President Jon Potter said in a statement.

This week, Potter’s group sent letters to members of Congress this week, asking them to back legislation – such as bills put forward by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) – that would allow companies being sued for patent infringement to challenge overly broad patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Currently, companies can only challenge “financial services” patents.

Overly broad software patents are "the easiest weapon for a patent troll to use" against small businesses, one patent reform advocate told us. The system of companies challenging broad patents has worked in the financial services sector and would work in the software sector, the advocate said.

Matt Levy, patent counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said he is “concerned” that the draft bill doesn’t address companies’ ability to challenge software patents.

“We'll certainly continue to work with Rep. Goodlatte's office on that provision of the draft,” he said.

Still, the draft takes major steps to helping companies that face excessive and expensive patent litigation, groups said.

The draft bill would increase transparency around companies suing for patent infringement, which would make it easier for the companies being sued to fight back.

“Right now a patent troll can get a case into court by just naming a company and a patent number, without ever identifying what products infringe the patent or why those products infringe,” said Charles Duan, director of Public Knowledge’s Patent Reform Project. 

“The draft bill would fix that.”

The draft bill would also allow courts to limit the number of documents that companies being sued have to produce.

“Right now it is possible for the patent troll to demand massive quantities of documents from defendants, which makes litigation costs skyrocket,” Duan said. Goodlatte’s draft “would put in limitations on those sorts of tactics,” he said.

If enacted, the draft would require the U.S. Judicial Conference to examine the rules surrounding patent litigation. The patent reform advocate called this "a very minor, but very important" change from Goodlatte's first discussion draft, which encouraged but did not require the review.

“Goodlatte definitely listened to stakeholders, because the sections on litigation and transparency are quite strong,” Levy said. 

“This definitely bodes well for getting a strong bill out of committee.”