Bill to slay patent trolls garners broad backing

Rackspace, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and more support Sen. John Cornyn's proposed Patent Abuse Reduction Act

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association), Rackspace, and other organizations are throwing their support behind the proposed Patent Abuse Reduction Act (PARA), a bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to ward off litigious patent trolls. Though the EFF cited concerns that the bill doesn't go far enough in protecting consumers, the legislation may have enough support from both sides of the aisles to have a shot at becoming law.

The proposal is crafted to thwart some of the more common tactics that patent trolls employ to wear down their victims to the point that settling out of court becomes preferable to drawn-out, costly litigation. For example, it would force plaintiffs to spell out their claims in detail from the get-go and prevent them from hiding behind shell companies.

Rackspace, which has made a public spectacle of its ongoing battles against patent trolls, had nothing but praise for PARA. "This bill is a breath of fresh air in the battle against patent trolls and their brazen abuse of the patent system," wrote Alan Schoenbaum, senior vice president and general counsel for Rackspace. "[It] beams necessary sunlight onto these all-too-frequent proceedings and is a major step toward fixing the problem of patent abuse."

Under current patent laws, plaintiffs aren't required to detail which patents a defendant is infringing upon or how. "This lack of clarity forces anyone accused of patent infringement into an endless (and expensive) guessing game," explained Schoenbaum. "Section 281A of [the bill] forces PAEs (patent assertion entities) to spell out their claims and be specific about their complaints," including detailed information about the infringing products and services.

The bill would also prevent patent trolls from hiding behind shell companies by requiring them to identify "not only themselves, but any other businesses or individuals who are co-owners, assignees, [or] licensees ... along with exposing any person or business with a financial interest in the patent infringement case," according to Schoenbaum.

The bill also would put a limit on discovery, which requires companies to pour resources into gathering and organizing reams of internal documents for plaintiffs for use as evidence. "Trolls use discovery to drive up the cost of the lawsuit, making it cheaper to settle, and to fish for more ways in which they can apply their claims," wrote Schoenbaum. "[PARA limits] discovery until after the meaning of the patent has occurred, shifting much of the cost of unreasonable discovery back to the patent troll."

Additionally, PARA would shift responsibility for the cost of litigation to the losing party.

The EFF wasn't quite as bullish about the proposed bill as Rackspace. EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels praised PARA in that it "would do significant harm to the patent troll business model, making it harder to be a troll and easier to fight one in court."

However, she cited several shortcomings to the bill, stemming from the fact its inherent reforms are all "litigation focused":

The bill does not address patent quality and fails to consider what the Patent Office could do to help those facing lawsuit threats. It does not include protection for end-users, consumers who find themselves staring down patent trolls over widely available technologies. And it fails to address the very root of the problem by not considering whether we should be able to patent software to begin with.

Joff Wild, editor of Intellectual Asset Magazine, anticipates that PARA has a reasonable chance of becoming U.S. law. He noted that Cornyn expressed appreciation to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, for coordinating with him on the bill. "This may indicate that the Patent Abuse Reduction Act will get some significant debate and scrutiny time allocated to it," Wild wrote in his blog. "Should that be the case, it may have a serious shot of making it onto the statute books. My guess is that it would attract a lot more support inside the wider IP world than, say, the SHIELD Act."

This story, "Bill to slay patent trolls garners broad backing," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.