The White House on Thursday announced three new executive actions to ease the problem of abusive patent lawsuits that force companies to spend money on litigation that could have been spent on research, but legislation will be needed to significantly deter that practice.
Patent assertion entities sometimes use a poorly defined or expired patent on consumer technology to extort an out-of-court settlement from small businesses using the tactic. To combat the problem the Obama administration tasked the U.S. Patent and Trade Office with new efforts to broaden its review of patents and increase its education about technology-related patents. The White House published these new actions in a fact sheet that also included updates about existing executive efforts President Barack Obama announced in June 2013.
During his State of the Union speech Obama called for legislation that would allow tech companies to spend less money on "needless" patent infringement lawsuits.
"Let's pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation," Obama said.
The new executive actions include a USPTO initiative to determine whether patents are original by helping the private sector work with patent examiners and applicants to “crowdsource” the search for prior art, which is technology that existed before a patent claim was filed.
The USPTO will also provide more technical training and guidance to patent examiners to help them keep up with fast-paced applications for tech industry patents. The agency will also appoint a full-time Pro Bono Coordinator for inventors who lack legal representation, the White House announced.
The House passed the bipartisan Innovation Act aimed
at defending the patent rights of inventors in December and limiting the
frequency of abusive patent lawsuits, but Obama has not taken a stance on the bill. As the Innovation Act heads to the Senate, Democrats may
debate the bill's "loser pays" model, which could limit the
discretion of courts by requiring the losers of a patent lawsuit to pay the
winning party's legal fees, with certain exceptions.