White House Targets Patent Trolls

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

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

February 21, 2014

3 Min Read
<b>Image courtesy of Flickr - Libby Levi for OpenSource.com</b>

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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.

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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About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

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 followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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