Great news for innovation: today the United States House of Representatives approved a bill to curb the abusive actions of patent trolls. According to Reuters, the bill had no trouble passing at 325 votes to 91, and the Senate will look into the issue on December 17. President Barack Obama has already expressed support for legislation like this, so chances are good that the patent trolls’ reign of terror is coming to an end.

For those scratching their heads, here’s a brief primer. One of the biggest issues in the tech world today is the ongoing threat of “patent trolls.” Regular old Internet trolls are easy enough to identify, as they typically live in long comment threads on Yahoo articles or YouTube videos, and are often signified by their poor spelling and ridiculously offensive remarks. Patent trolls, on the other hand, are a more devious breed: companies all over the United States buy or license patents from the original filers who may not be doing much with them, then go around issuing letters to others that could be considered as “infringing” on those patents, demanding regular fees or lump payments under threat of litigation.

Just last week, the popular online computer retailer Newegg was ordered to pay $2.3 million for patent infringement regarding its encryption techniques to a company called TQP Development. What does TQP Development do?

Nothing.


According to this Wired article, it owns patents, then sues other companies. The article says that the company has sued “hundreds of tech companies—including Apple, Google, Intel and Samsung—over the same encryption patent, which was filed in 1989 by a man named Michael Jones.” And TQP Development is owned by a patent lawyer, who is the head honcho of a law firm that has sued over 1,500 companies over patent infringement like this. Essentially, patent trolls don’t provide services or goods to anyone for anything, and make their money by extorting money from others.

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The bill, according to Reuters, will look to stop these “patent assertion entities” for “sending large numbesr of licensing demands to small businesses without determining if they actually use infringing technology.” It would also increase the power of judges in terms of awarding fees to winners of these lawsuits—which would hopefully amount to less harmful payments than the sometimes exorbitant fees trolls seek—and would also “require companies filing infringement lawsuits to provide specific details on what patent is infringed and how it is used.”

The fact that this last bit isn’t already a requirement of suing someone for patent infringement shows just how badly patent law needs reform. Hopefully the Senate’s own work on the issue will continue the process, and patent trolls will have to go back under their patent bridges.


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