FTC chief supports patent system update

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said Friday that she supports updates to the patent litigation system.

During a hearing held by the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Ramirez discussed the agency’s plan to combat "patent trolls," or companies that profit off of their patents by bringing and threatening to bring infringement lawsuits. 

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As these companies increasingly target small businesses and consumers who purchase patented technology, companies and trade groups are calling on Congress to reform the patent litigation system. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has introduced a reform bill, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to release a companion bill in the coming weeks.

Ramirez said she is “supportive of efforts to reform the patent system to weed out weak [intellectual property] and efforts to allow companies to defend themselves against frivolous” lawsuits.

The FTC announced in September that it is investigating how patent trolls affect consumers and the economy.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) asked Ramirez to explain what the agency is studying and how long the study will take.

Ramirez said that the study will “shed light on ultimately what the costs and benefits are of Patent Assertion Entities’ activity.”

The FTC will move as quickly as it can on the study, she said, but similar studies have taken up to two years.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) compared the FTC to state attorneys general, some of whom are bringing cases against the patent trolls that go after consumers.

“Maybe we can get the FTC to take a more aggressive approach to protecting consumers in this area,” he said.

Ramirez replied that the FTC “will take action” if it comes across examples of patent trolls violating consumer protection or antitrust laws.