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White House Targets Patent Trolls

Obama administration reports progress, announces three new executive actions, to promote patent reform.

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The White House has announced three new executive actions to strengthen the US patent system and combat patent assertion entities (PAEs), more commonly known as patent trolls.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, National Economic Council director Gene Sperling, federal CTO Todd Park, and USPTO deputy director Michelle Lee took the stage at the White House on Thursday to discuss the progress the administration has made on five executive actions introduced in June 2013.

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama stressed the importance of passing legislation to fight patent trolling and limit abusive litigation, where companies seek royalties from unsuspecting product users, or challenge the legitimacy of patents to avoid paying royalties. Patent assertion entities are a drain on the economy, according to a White House report, and hurt companies, the president said.

Echoing the president's sentiments, Park said at Thursday's event, "We care deeply about innovation. Patent trolls hinder rather than help innovation. We have been listening and will continue to take executive action to combat patent trolls."

[The new executive actions are the latest efforts in The White House's War on Patent Trolls.]

The first executive action announced Thursday involves the creation of Crowdsourcing Prior Art, an initiative where companies, experts, and the general public assist patent examiners, holders, and applicants in finding prior art, or technical information that could determine whether an invention is truly original. "This will help our parent examiners determine whether an invention is worthy of a patent," said Pritzker.

Image courtesy of Flickr - Libby Levi for OpenSource.com
Image courtesy of Flickr - Libby Levi for OpenSource.com

The second action focuses on increasing accessibility of the patent system. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) said it will offer resources to inventors without legal representation. As part of that effort, USPTO will appoint a full-time pro bono coordinator and expand the existing America Invents Act pro bono program to all 50 states.

Third, USPTO will provide patent examiners with more technical training to help them keep up with fast-changing technology fields. USPTO said it wants to make it easier for technologists and engineers to make their expertise available to examiners.

Lee said the administration has made significant progress on the five actions introduced by the president last June. To promote transparency, USPTO recently published a draft rule to ensure that patent owners accurately record and update ownership information involved in proceedings.

USPTO also introduced a training program for examiners looking at claims, and is in the process of launching a pilot program that uses glossaries to promote patent clarity. Delivering on another promise, USPTO has created an online toolkit that answers common patent questions and offers access to other resources.

"We want 2014 to be the year when the president signs patent legislation," said Sperling. "This is an area where there's hope for bipartisan action."

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Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/24/2014 | 7:42:17 PM
Re: There is no protect for little guys
Tom, I agree, the idea that tweaks in software code deserve to be patent protected has created a nightmarish situation for patent examiners.
WKash
100%
0%
WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 5:58:45 PM
Re: There is no protect for little guys
Thanks for sharing your observations here.  We'll keep these in mind as we continue to cover this.
WKash
50%
50%
WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 5:04:23 PM
Re: There is no protect for little guys
Thanks for sharing your story. I'm sure you're not alone in experiencing how inventive ideas can get blocked because of overly general patents held by companies w/ deep pockets. 

I'd be interested in your thoiughts on how useful the new "Patent Litigation" toolkit is on  the USPTO site, that I understand is a first for USPTO in helping business with some of these issues.  See http://www.uspto.gov/patents/litigation/index.jsp

 
Thomas Claburn
IW Pick
100%
0%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 5:03:47 PM
Re: There is no protect for little guys
Individual inventors with truly novel ideas deserve patent protection. But no one seems willing to address the possibility that much of what is currently patentable should not be patentable at all. The notion that Amazon could patent purchasing an item with a single click is absurd. Business method patents for software should not exist.
WKash
0%
100%
WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 2:26:10 PM
Re: There is no protect for little guys
No question, it's not easy for the little guys. But innovation doesn't start with playing the victim. I encourage you -- and every underdog -- to go and read Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, "David and Goliath" and what it says about underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants! 

 
WKash
0%
100%
WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 2:19:48 PM
Re: Crowdsourcking patents is a horrible idea
I'm with somedude8.  The idea is that patent examiners can't know all there is to know to prove the uniqueness of a design.  Crowdsourcing isn't the only answer.  More training and better tools are needed to. But it is essentially free, taps into a greater body of observers, and hopefully makes sense to fold into the process with today's technology.
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