The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has discovered something very curious: the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress’ research child, has suddenly become very interested in patent trolls. In fact, the government body last month released a 23-page report on the effects of patent trolls on innovation and the economy, titled “An Overview of the ‘Patent Trolls’ Debate” (PDF).
For the uninitiated, patent trolling refers to the practice of owning a patent and suing one or more alleged infringers over it with the sole purpose of abusive personal or monetary gain. Patent trolls can be individuals or companies, and they have no intention to manufacture or sell whatever the patent describes. In fact, their entire business model relies on buying patents, often which are questionably broad in scope, and finding companies to threaten (with the goal of settlement) and sue.
The EFF thus asks the question: “Could it be that Congress is really starting to pay attention when it comes to fixing the broken patent system?” The report does a fairly good job of describing the patent troll problem; here’s an excerpt:
PAEs have frequently been accused of imposing a “tax on innovation” and undermining or impairing the incentives that patent law aims to create. Yet PAEs have also been defended on the grounds that they actually promote invention by adding liquidity, absorbing some of the risk otherwise borne by investors, and getting more royalties for small inventors. Without a doubt, PAEs both add to and subtract from the incentives of patent law, but the FTC and many experts in the field indicate that they currently do more harm than good to innovation and the patent system. The extent of this imbalance—and whether Congress could or should recalibrate it to “support the beneficial effects, and lessen the detrimental ones”— remains unclear, however.
Well, that answers the question. It would seem that the CRS still isn’t sure whether its daddy needs to step in.
If you want Congress to be certain, the EFF is urging you to join its Defend Innovation petition. The point isn’t just to collect signatures (over 13,000 so far) but to work together on the organization’s proposals before it brings them to D.C. and lets “Congress know exactly who is affected, how the system is flawed, and what they can do to really fix it.”
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