House subcommittee to take first patent vote

A House subcommittee on Wednesday will hold Congress's first vote on patent reform this year. 

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade will mark up a bill that would make changes to patent demand letters, which can be abused by so-called patent trolls to threaten companies with frivolous claims. 

Lawmakers on the committee held a hearing on the Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters Act last week. The proposal was approved by the subcommittee last year on a 13-to-6 vote but did not advance past that. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill is separate from a broader patent bill being debated in the Judiciary Committee, which would make a number of changes to the patent litigation system. 

The TROL Act focuses specifically on demand letters and would give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to crack down on abuse, under the commission's mandate to regulate unfair and deceptive practices. 

Demand letters are sent by patent holders to license their patent or to allege infringement. But patent holders can sometimes abuse the system by making vague claims to hundreds of different companies, demanding payment to avoid a lawsuit.

During last week's hearing, advocates and some Democrats suggested a number of changes to the draft bill before it advances, including scrapping the requirement that the FTC prove "bad faith" or a pattern of abuse in order to take regulatory action against patent trolls. 

Lawmakers could address those concerns during Wednesday's markup.