IBM, Microsoft strike a blow against patent-troll reform

Tech giants help defang provision in current anti-patent-troll legislation designed to invalidate low-quality patents

The most recent patent reform bill may just have been gutted -- by some of software's biggest names.

According to the Washington Post, the House Judiciary Committee is preparing to remove a major provision of the current bill, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and designed to rein in the trollish abuse of technology patents.

The provision in question deals with the re-examination of "covered business method" patents (CBMs). Some business method patents are valid, but too many are impossibly broad or vague. A number of such patents lie at the heart of patent troll portfolios.

CBM reform was introduced in the 2011 America Invents Act and was originally designed to allow re-examination of patents applying to financial products. The program granted many benefits, but most notable was how those sued by a troll could have their lawsuit stayed pending a re-examination of the patent in question. Under the current bill, CBM would have been expanded to allow re-examination of a much broader range of patents, a move the EFF and Mark Bohannon of Red Hat both applauded.

But not everyone was thrilled. Members of BSA -- among them Microsoft, IBM, Xerox, Qualcomm, and Freescale Semiconductor, all companies with major patent portfolios -- wanted the CBM provision of the bill deleted. It seems they got their wish, as they are now strong sponsors of the bill in its current form.

Software patent blogger Florian Mueller was worried that the expanded CBM provisions would have more impact than believed. "The most vocal critics of 'patent trolls' have a far broader agenda," he wrote. "They seek to weaken not only illegitimate IP enforcement but all IP enforcement, at least in the IT sector."

Bohannon has disagreed with the objections raised against expanded CBM. "The expansion of the CBM program," he wrote, "shifts the high cost of abusive litigation (the cost of which for a target of PAE threats can approach millions of dollars, even if there is settlement) away from the over burdened courts into a carefully tailored review program. The program is designed to bring clarity as quickly as possible to patents that are notoriously and far too often overbroad, unclear, and used to game the patent litigation system."

Bohannon also didn't feel expanding CBM was a covert attack on IP generally. "Expanding the CBM program does not change the standards for patenting business methods," he noted. "It provides a procedural response [emphasis his] to the specific litigation abuses surrounding these patents, which are nine times more likely to be litigated than other categories of patents."

Even without the expanded CBM provisions, the bill still has a good deal going for it. CBM itself is not dead either; as the Post reports, Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to get expanded CBM back into the patent-reform program at some point. Among his allies: businesses that have themselves been burned by patent trolls.

This article, "IBM, Microsoft strike a blow against patent-troll reform," 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 business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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