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White House Announces Reforms Targeting Patent Trolls 124

Posted by timothy
from the setting-the-tone dept.
andy1307 writes "According to Politico (and, paywalled, at The Wall Street Journal), the White House on Tuesday [released] plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reining in certain patent-holding firms, known as 'patent trolls' to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition. The plan includes five executive actions and seven legislative recommendations. They include requiring patent holders and applicants to disclose who really owns and controls the patent, changing how fees are awarded to the prevailing parties in patent litigation, and protecting consumers with better protections against being sued for patent infringement."
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White House Announces Reforms Targeting Patent Trolls

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  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @08:33AM (#43903991)

    Do these measures address arguably the most fundamental problem: too many things are patentable in the US and patents are awarded too easily in the first place?

    • by gtall (79522) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @09:08AM (#43904315)

      No, the President cannot simply change the rules about what is patentable. That would take an Act of Congress. Now if only Congress could produce some worthy Acts instead of sharpening their daggers for the next partisan attacks.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        How about demanding that current rules be enforced? We don't need new laws, we just need the current ones enforced.
      • by KingMotley (944240) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @10:34AM (#43905279) Journal

        The president can quite literally change the rules about what is patentable through an executive order, however, if that would stand up in court would be questionable. The fact that changing patent law wouldn't really go against anything in the constitution directly would probably hold a lot of weight. Of course, if the president is found to have overstepped his bounds, he can always be removed from office for it as well if the offense is big enough.

    • by Luckyo (1726890) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @09:37AM (#43904663)

      No. The measures are going to be designed by same people who designed the current patent laws, and therefore will have the same goal: to enforce position of incumbent powerhouses against small disruptors.

      Therefore patents will likely be allowed to use as a method of suppressing competition for big companies. However small company use of patents to defend and attack anti-competitive practices will likely be destroyed in the name of "defending against patent trolls".

      The actual patent reform would take power from incumbent companies, and as a result will simply not happen.

      • by melikamp (631205)

        You are almost certainly right, about the motives as well as about the likely effect.

        To this I may add, the submitter's bias (or complete lack of effort to present the NPoV) is clear in the blurb. Patent trolls are "disrupting competition"? Really? The whole point of the patent system is to disrupt the competition, by giving out almost life-time exclusive rights for implementing ideas. Yet patent lovers keep repeating the same nonsense: in their world, monopolies spur the competition.

        Another piece of no

      • I still wonder what effect it would have, to change law from "Assuming granted patents are valid" to "Assuming granted patents may be invalid". I mean, it will not solve that many problems, but it could solve the problems of patent trolls being granted legitimate force just from having the patent granted.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Do these measures address arguably the most fundamental problem: too many things are patentable in the US and patents are awarded too easily in the first place?

      No, because that would be idiotic and stupid. Having one person dictate what is and isn't patentable opens a huge can of worms that can hinder innovation because government cannot adapt to changes and innovations in other fields.

      For example, let's say the current patentable stuff includes stuff for a carriage drawn by a horse, given the technology of

      • by jedidiah (1196) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @11:22AM (#43905797) Homepage

        > Having one person dictate what is and isn't patentable opens a huge can of worms that can hinder innovation

        That is MORONIC.

        The lack of a patent does not "hinder innovation". People can still choose to bring new products to market even if they don't get to benefit from a virtual land grab.

        You're just repeating the same old tired megacorp propaganda.

        Avarice is not the mother of invention.

        • by chrismcb (983081)

          Avarice is not the mother of invention.

          No it isn't. But it does help propel the invention out into the world. Many people invented something because of necessity. But then they sold it because they wanted to make money on it. Other people attacked problems, because they knew if they solved them they can make money off of it

      • Having one person dictate what is and isn't patentable opens a huge can of worms

        I think you're reading too much into what I wrote that isn't really there.

        I am not talking about specific cases, I am talking about general principles and what the scope of patent protection should be. I have no problem with saying that, for example, patents should not apply to any information-based "invention" such as software, business methods, or scientific data. I also think it would be wise not to grant patents for any physical invention whose novelty is primarily or entirely in the information it embo

      • by Jockle (2934767)

        Having one person dictate what is and isn't patentable opens a huge can of worms that can hinder innovation because government cannot adapt to changes and innovations in other fields.

        You're saying that limiting patents or leaving the decision of what is and is not patentable to one person can hinder innovation? And you're talking about patents, a government-enforced monopoly over methods? That is simply too comical; it is patents that are disgusting, not the act of limiting them or making it more difficult for people to obtain them.

    • I'd like it if everything you invent is patentable insofar as you produce a product containing or consisting of your invention, and the moment you stop doing so the patent becomes null and void.
    • The US economy is drowning in a sea of crappy patents. This executive order is a matter of trying to build a lifeboat. It does nothing to address the flood.

      The first, biggest issues of patent reform are:

      • * How do you reform in the face of determined opposition from the Patent Industry? Or
      • * How do you strip the Patent Industry of it's enormous influence? And
      • * How can we possibly survive the current flood of crappy patents.

      The mechanics of patent reform are fairly obvious to everybody, once we

  • "reining" (Score:5, Funny)

    by sessamoid (165542) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @08:34AM (#43904001)
    "aimed at reigning in certain patent-holding firms"

    "Reining", not "reigning". Think horses, not kings.

  • ... and protecting consumers with better protections against being sued for patent infringement.

    How's that new? I thought consumers were exempt from these type of lawsuits.
    Should I have been reading patents before wasting money on my iPhone?

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @08:45AM (#43904111)

      The you clearly haven't read the law.

      Section 271 of Title 35:

      (a) Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

      The "uses" part covers customers who have bought the infringing product. It is not common to go after the customers but it is legal and there are examples.

      • ... you clearly haven't read the law.

        Why does that make me feel enlightened?

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

        by devjoe (88696) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @10:15AM (#43905077)

        The you clearly haven't read the law.

        Section 271 of Title 35:

        (a) Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

        The "uses" part covers customers who have bought the infringing product. It is not common to go after the customers but it is legal and there are examples.

        As an example of going after customers, see the story about patent trolls extorting money from business who use scan-to-email functionality [slashdot.org]. There are more recent stories on this subject, but this one from January is what I can find right now.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by earlzdotnet (2788729) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @09:04AM (#43904277)

      ... and protecting consumers with better protections against being sued for patent infringement.

      How's that new? I thought consumers were exempt from these type of lawsuits. Should I have been reading patents before wasting money on my iPhone?

      Do you not remember that case of the people who "invented wifi" in patent form? They went around suing small businesses using wifi. They did an interview where they were asked "have you gone after any home users?" to which they replied "not at this point".

      No one is safe from the reach of their filth. It's just that suing home users probably isn't profitable. I would be curious though as to what would happen if you acquired an obvious patent and tried to sue a politician with it

      • by FunPika (1551249)
        That depends, how much punitive damages could they possibly get on it? If its anything like copyright infringement (RIAA suing people for downloading music), it probably would be profitable for a patent troll with a patent that the iPhone infringes to try to sue all iPhone owners. IANAL, but would they even be able to pull something like have a court order the carriers to release the information of all known iPhone users on their network so they would have their list of targets?
        • by HiThere (15173)

          I think you're confusing copyright and patent law. I'll admit that you might just be drawing an analogy, however.

          OTOH, remember that the RIAA bought special laws that gave them the right to claim those huge damages. I'll grant that they were strengthened by (corrupt? stupid?) court decisions, but the older forms of the copyright law would not have enabled them to have a profitable business suing people.

          The (corrupt? stupid?) court decisions that I'm aware of were the ones that allowed ephemeral copies to

      • I would be curious though as to what would happen if you acquired an obvious patent and tried to sue a politician with it

        The obvious would happen. You would lose, but it would probably not change much for the common guy. The main problem on your train of though is that you are expecting a rational, constitutional, response. Real life allows for solutions that are neither.

  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @08:43AM (#43904079)
    I've been thinking patent trolls are more a symptom of the problems. I see as reasonable:
    1) You don't need to produce a product to have a patent (think small inventors looking for partners).
    2) Patents should be transferable (can sell them)
    3) You can sue for infringement

    Simple as that you can now have companies that buy patents and sue for infringement. I suspect the real issue is #2 - if they are non-transferable then the inventor will have to license them. I think there would still be some troll law firms that represent a pool of inventors, but they'd have to share the "profits" and I suspect it would be less of a problem.
    Another issue is probably the duration - 20 years is a long time for a patent, but primarily they should not be transferable.

    I would argue that they should not be transferable from inventor to employer either, but that's a bit off topic - short version: your employment papers might include automatic licensing of inventions to the company under some terms. The US does not recognize companies as inventors - and rightly so IMHO.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      All that is needed is "new" laws on Champerty and Trial-by-Combat, and patent trolling could become a new spectator sport! What could possibly go wrong?
    • The response to your proposal that patents cannot be sold: "Since I can't sell my patent to you, I'll just grant you an exclusive, lifetime license to the patent for any use for X dollars instead."

      If you can license a patent, then it's effectively transferable, and no profit sharing needs to be taking place, nor could we expect profit sharing to act as a deterrent.

      The real problem is that unpatentable items are being granted patents. Algorithms (and data, for that matter, such as genetic sequences, since th

    • by ketomax (2859503)
      Wouldn't the drones (incorporated ones) get new geeky targets if patents are made non-transferable?
    • Then you just register an LLC for every patent, and then sell the "company" that owns the patent... People should own IP, not non-living entities.
    • by chrismcb (983081)
      So when my company goes bankrupt (from trying to make the product) i can't then sell my patent? There is no failsafe, and you've just removed one reason to come up with the invention.
  • by hsmith (818216) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @08:44AM (#43904095)
    "Executive Actions" mean diddly squat. Executive Orders are nothing more than directions to executive agencies how to enforce the existing law. He can't create new law (well I guess he can try) by fiat. So, unless Congress gets off its lazy ass and fixes patents, this does nothing.
    • very true, however there's a good chance that many patent trolling companies are in violation of RICO so a fire lit under the DoJ might be a good start.
  • Seems hollow. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GWRedDragon (1340961)
    From the same administration that rammed through first to file, now we're supposed to believe they're out to help innocent patent victims? Seems more likely that someone decided that patent trolls were getting dangerous to the big boys. Expect to see no steps to prevent monopolists from using obvious patents to destroy potential competition.
    • Re:Seems hollow. (Score:5, Informative)

      by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @09:00AM (#43904251)

      How does first to file change anything for small inventors? If anything it makes it easier for them as they will likely not be able to prove their date of invention nor afford a costly legal battle to do so.

      You do know it just means that if You and I attempt to patent the same device the patent goes to the first to file not to the first to invent right? If either of us disclose the patent first, like say publish some FOSS software, no one gets a pantent.

      • The problem is that the people who rail against first-to-file are ignorant of what the system is. Many somehow think it means that prior art, etc. no longer apply when nothing could be further from the truth.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Why would anyone think that?
          That would be total insanity. I would go patent eating right now.

      • First to invent made sense a century ago when an inventor in California might need several days to reach Washington. It really doesn't make sense today.

      • neither makes sense (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Chirs (87576) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @11:24AM (#43905809)

        If two people independently invent something, then I think it should be non-patentable by definition.

        The whole point of patents is to make public information on how to do something *that would otherwise be lost*. If multiple people independently invent something, then it seems to me that it is not in danger of being lost.

        If the only reason something is patentable is because nobody ever had that specific problem before, but the solution is obvious to an expert, then it shouldn't be patentable.

        • If two people independently invent something, then I think it should be non-patentable by definition.

          Here we go... That sounds about right... The mere fact that two people tried to independently patent something at the same time ought to be clear proof that there is enough out there that the patent ought to be rejected. I'd even go further, if it can be proved that a person independently invented the same thing years into the life of a patent without ever having heard of the patent, then the original should be revoked (because that would mean that the ability of the world has caught up and now can do said

        • by chrismcb (983081)

          If two people independently invent something, then I think it should be non-patentable by definition.

          Why? 2 people out of 6 billion come up with the same idea, so it must not be novel? Of course not, that is just stupid. The idea isn't that you should be the only person in the world ever to figure out to solve a problem. Just that not very many other people can or have.

      • I hate how anytime anyone makes a negative comment about first to file, there is an overwhelming response of "you don't know what you're talking about."

        First to file is bad for the little guy, because the little guy doesn't have a legal team standing ready to churn out a patent. Assume a guy in his garage and an employee at a big corp invent the same thing. The guy at the big corp invents it a little after the guy in his garage. The result will be that the big corp gets the patent, because they will be mu
    • What exactly is wrong with first-to-file? The rest of the world uses it just fine. Do you even know what the first-to-file means? First-to-file is just the way its decided who a patent goes to if muliple parties try to patent the same thing. Why you rail against the change is bizarre but sounds like your one of the many idiots on Slashdot who misunderstand the concept. Also, you should be all for the change since it also briught along an increased scope of what can be used as prior art to invalidate a pate

      • by Anonymous Coward
        If multiple separate parties all try to patent the same thing, then the idea was too obvious to be patented in the first place.
        • by devjoe (88696)

          If multiple separate parties all try to patent the same thing, then the idea was too obvious to be patented in the first place.

          You say that, but exactly this situation has occurred with inventions as original and important as the telephone (1876) [wikipedia.org].

          • by jedidiah (1196)

            Clearly then the telephone wasn't nearly as novel as you would like to have us all believe.

            The idea of the lone inventor also feeds into the idea of the benevolent dictator or Robber Baron in the style of Any Rand. The idea that the little guy exists in isolation from the state of the art also allows for granting the "captain of industry" far more power and influence than he deserves. Apply to the "corporate person" if no obvious figurehead is available.

          • If multiple separate parties all try to patent the same thing, then the idea was too obvious to be patented in the first place.

            You say that, but exactly this situation has occurred with inventions as original and important as the telephone (1876) [wikipedia.org].

            Yes and because of that the government spent more then 100 years suing AT&T for antitrust violations. Until finally AT&T agreed to diversify.
            Now we are still dealing with AT&T as a large entity though it is mainly over internet.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Better not mess with the WH and Capitol Hill staffers' iPhones and Androids.

    Unfortunately, the likes of Nathan "See I'm a geek like you" Myrhvold are too smart for that.

  • Can't Obama just drone-assassinate patent trolls?

  • Allowing customers to be sued for patent infringement has always struck me as stupid.

    If I buy a product from a vendor, and *they* infringed on a patent, there's no way I should be in a position to get sued by some asshole who thinks he owns a patent on a "system of connecting two machines with a network".

    Even more so if the product is something I bought at a retail store -- if I can walk into Wal Mart and buy it, and you think that infringes on your patent, take it up with someone else. NMFP.

  • by gmuslera (3436)
    Apple will get into deep waters if this happens to them at the same time as being sued for price fixing ebooks [guardian.co.uk]. This kind of abuses [paidcontent.org] should be targetted by the law, after all.
    • by Quila (201335)

      Apple makes almost all of its money selling product, not through patent threats. Pretty much the opposite of a patent troll.

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Making the competition paying them 1b dollars, or limit their distribution, over patents should count. And trolling with patents won't make you a patent troll, after all?
        • by Quila (201335)

          No, this is what patents are for. You spend a lot of time and money inventing something, you start selling products based on that invention, someone else uses your invention to sell his own product, you sue. We may not agree with Apple on the validity of the patents, but that's irrelevant.

          The "nice" name for a patent troll that the lawyers use is a "non-practicing entity." Apple practices, not a troll, just an overly-litigious company.

  • by caffeinejolt (584827) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @09:44AM (#43904729)
    This is indeed one aspect of the many problems with our patent system,. Another is the corporate strategy, initiated over a decade ago, which has virtually eliminated the interaction between innovative small firms and larger firms with the need for innovation and the deep pockets required to drive innovative products to market. After my small firm was purchased in 2000, I was ordered to inform all engineers that it would be a major (i.e. firing) violation of corporate policy if they let themselves become aware of the intellectual property of any other firm. I was told that this had recently been adopted as corporate policy by most major firms as a brilliant defense against the feared "triple damages" awards for patent infringement. Corporate policy explicitly banning any effort to learn about other firms' patents currently eliminates any possibility of a court awarding triple damages - even if patent infringement were proven. Since most innovative small firms lack the financial resources needed to take on a multi-year legal battle, even if they were able to show infringement on their patent, this new corporate policy amounted to a free pass for large wealthy firms to simply steal innovations from innovative small firms. The worst thing that could happen would be that the small firm won in court, at which point the worst-case punishment would be to pay 'damages' - which are defined as simply the amount that the stealing firm would have had to pay had they properly licensed the patents from the small firm in the first place. While this is considered a brilliant legal strategy, it is a disastrous national policy for technological innovation. It virtually eliminates the financial incentive for small firms to invest in innovation, by providing carte blanche for larger firms to simply steal that innovation; the logical large firm strategy in this case is to never discuss intellectual property with any small firm - simply steal it and defy them to take you to court. We do indeed need to make war on patent trolls, but even more importantly, we need to make war on patent thieves - by punishing deliberate ignorance of patent theft with large penalties. If it is proven that infringement occurred, and that the infringing firm had a policy of deliberate ignorance, the damage award should be at least tripled. Or - we should start letting speeders go free if they claim ignorance of the speed limit because they chose to deliberately avert their eyes every time a speed limit sign came near.
    • by closer2it (926190)
      Sir, sorry to disturb you, but I was passing by and found some of these <br/> on the floor. Are they yours? ;)
  • The plan includes five executive actions...

    Me: Whoah...that's a bit harsh, don't you think? I'd think we can get by with a simple public caning, maybe some time spent in the stocks...

  • 1.Make it illegal to send any infringement notices or "you have violated a patent we own" notices unless the notices contain details of exactly which patents are being violated.
    2.Make it harder to get an ITC injunction order by requiring the patent holder to provide more proof that not granting the order will cause irreparable harm.
    3.Introduce an "enforce it or loose it" system for patents which prevents patent holders from waiting to sue until they think they can get more money from a violation (e.g. waiti

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