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Summary:

It was a good day for patent trolls as the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that a popular reform bill has died.

Fail, failure, roadkill
photo: Tom Wang

A closely watched patent reform bill failed on Wednesday as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that he lacked the bipartisan support to push the bill forward.

In a statement, Leahy said he hoped the Committee “will return to this issue,” but made clear the process is finished for now. The statement read, in part:

“We have been working for almost a year with countless stakeholders on legislation to address the problem of patent trolls who are misusing the patent system …Because there is not sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal, I am taking the patent bill off the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda.”

The move is a major blow for retailers, tech companies and a wide variety of businesses that have been shaken down by “patent trolls” — shell companies whose sole business consists of forcing their targets to pay for a patent license in order to avoid expensive litigation.

The failure of the patent reform bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin and had the support of President Obama, is a victory for troll companies like Intellectual Ventures, which have lobbied hard to stop the reforms.

A person familiar with the matter said the process failed in large part because “Leahy was unwilling to choose winners and losers.”

Another source, meanwhile, say that Leahy’s ability to build a bipartisan coalition was undermined by recent pressure from the pharma industry and from universities.

As Gigaom reported last Friday, Sen. Leahy had initially been a vocal supporter of patent reform, but appears to have shifted his position in recent weeks in response to lobbying pressure. Despite ongoing bipartisan support for patent reform in the Senate led by liberal Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and conservative Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx), a new law is now effectively impossible until after the midterm elections.

The outcome was greeted with disappointment on Twitter by activists who had worked to assemble a coalition of tech and retail companies to stop patent trolling:

Meanwhile, the trolls continue to do brisk business. In late April, for instance, trolls filed nearly 200 lawsuits in a single day, using old patents to target everyone from Etsy to the NFL.

For patent reformers, any hope of change for now rests with the Supreme Court. The court is in the course of deciding a major case called Alice Corp that could eliminate or reduce software patents, which have proved easy to obtain and are a popular weapon of patent trolls.

This story was updated several times as new information became available

  1. Good to hear that sensibility finally wins over lobbying. Hopefully competing sides can come together to craft a bill that addresses all parties’ concerns and not just those of silicon valley tech companies…

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    1. As what occurred the last time there was “patent deform” the politicians will keep cycling any proposed legislation to generate greater campaign contributions for themselves. That said, if it is dead then good – like the AIA this legislation was proposed to protect a select group at the expense of the country as a whole.

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    2. Karen Kazaryan Wednesday, May 21, 2014

      Since when we need to hear from scammers?

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    3. Patent trolls have turned software development into a minefield, forcing independent developers out of the market. They nearly killed free software. They create monopolies where none need exist. This isn’t a matter of “competing sides.” Sometimes there’s a clear bad guy, and patent trolls are it.

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    4. I agree Matt. This bill was drafted for the silicon valley elite, and I’m glad it’s off the table. It would have stripped protection rights away from true inventors.

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    5. Paul Morinville Wednesday, May 21, 2014

      This particular patent reform effort would have wiped out patent rights for almost all independent inventors. Not so surprisingly, it would not have the same effect on large tech giants like Google to go after smaller prey. It is good that it is dead.

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  2. Everyone… Boo this man!

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  3. Congresscritters should be required to wear their sponsors’ logos, like race car drivers. I doubt Leahy would have done this huge favor for Monsanto and Bayer and Rambus if he were wearing their logos on his sleeves.

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  4. “It was a good day for patent trolls as the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that a popular reform bill has died.”

    Actually, it was a good day for inventors. This bill offered absolutely no positive reform for inventors, simply because, if passed, it would have empowered big enterprise with more infringement bullying power, as small inventors would not be able to survive a legal battle to enforce their patent protection rights. And in that sense, the bill, if passed, would have only fueled the trolling problem, because small inventors, if they cannot protect their IP themselves due to threats of legal bullying, would then be forced to make business decisions to release their IP to more financially endowed trolls who can go out and better enforce the small inventors’ rights against infringement.

    Maybe one day Jeff John Roberts will open his eyes and see what real consequential damages this bill (and others like it) will cause; and that the problem isn’t trolls, the problem is infringers. And that patent pooling and assertion (what some call “trolling” as a misnomer) is a mere response to big enterprise infringement who 1) deny licensing and damages when warranted, and 2) bully with expensive court-room and USPTO tactics.

    My authority on the matter: I am a small inventor with IP, and I have a right to protect my inventions from being stolen by bigger fish while I actualize and bring them to the market.

    This bill almost went through without remembering that the patent system exists to protect innovators like me. I’m glad they came to their senses.

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  5. Leahy also said “Unfortunately, there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions.  We have heard repeated concerns that the House-passed bill went beyond the scope of addressing patent trolls, and would have severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders who employ thousands of Americans.”

    So Leahy et al also admitted that many expressed that this bill would have damaged legitimate patent holders. I’m glad they listened. This is a good day for innovation.

    If they want to stop the trolling, they don’t need to enact more laws (bigger government is not good), but just let the troll issue resolve itself. Once big corporations learn (out of fear of so-called trolls, who are simply asserting legal IP rights) to search the publicly accessible patent database and contact legitimate patent holders before producing an infringing product, and seek license deals beforehand, then there will be no infringement. No infringement = no basis for any assertion to seek damages.

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  6. A lot of astroturfing in these comments.

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    1. Actually, I’m no astroturfer. I’m an inventor with patents.

      I do find it odd that every time I contradict the author with comments about protecting inventors like me and our fight against large infringers like Google, Jeff John Roberts becomes eerily silent. Evidence of this is all over his articles.

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      1. Mike, no offense, but with all the time you spend propagandizing patents, I find it surprising you have time for inventing. Perhaps, you would be willing to share your real name and the patents you have? I imagine you would be proud to do so.

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        1. I only propagandize your articles, Jeff, primarily because you consistently only tell half the story, and this half is starkly at odds with true inventors. Moreover, making a corrective comment only takes a few minutes. Given that it takes months or even years to hear a response from the USPTO as they diligently search for prior art references to reject any patent application claims that I may submit, I have a few minutes to make such a comment without deterring from my work.

          I could make the same point as well — I find it surprising with all the time you spend propagandizing ideas to injure inventors and innovation that you have time to research and construct truthful, non-biased and non-clickbait articles — but that distracts away from the argument, so I won’t make an issue of how you choose to spend you time and research.

          So let’s focus on the argument:
          Would the Innovation Act have hurt small inventors and empowered large corporations in the small inventors pursuit against infringement from the large corporations?
          Yes or no.

          Because if yes, that is not beneficial patent reform, but I welcome your take on the argument.

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          1. But Mike, don’t you think your arguments would carry even more authority if you identified yourself?

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            1. But Jeff, why avoid the argument? Addressing my question carries more substance to the actual argument than identification of who I am, for two reasons:

              1) Addressing the very simple question/argument that I asked you (and you seem to avoid) addresses a primary reason the patent system exists, and this issue is THE ESSENTIAL UNDERLYING ISSUE that should be answered first before any of your articles are written with respect to reform of that very patent system. Therefore, addressing my simple question is indeed substantial with respect to the argument. Far more substantial, in fact, than the detour made with your last comment, which is addressed in 2) below.

              2) Identifying myself adds no substance to the argument and introduces the following logical fallacies and ways for other fallacies to creep in.

              Logical fallacy #1: Argumentum ab auctoritate / aka “Appeal to Authority”
              => Saying that because an authority thinks something, it must therefore be true.

              So what does it matter who I am? What matters is the argument. But if you want to know who I am, I will tell you this: I have patents. I have never asserted/litigated them. But if my patent rights do become infringed upon, I must protect my property, and I have every legal right to do so. And the Innovation Act was set out to destroy those rights granted to small inventors and innovation while empowering large corporations with more legal bullying power. Nevertheless, identification of the person engaged in the argument (at the moment, me) adds no substance to the actual argument at hand, so what does it matter who I am?

              Logical fallacy #2: Argumentum ad hominem / aka “Attacking your opponent”
              => Attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.
              Not only would identifying myself not address the argument, but it would also allow the possibility of the “ad hominem” logical fallacy to creep in. Don’t criticize how I spend my time, and I won’t criticize how you do your research. It’s not important to the argument.

              And just for kicks, even if everyone agrees with me or you, we shall not become victum of
              Logical fallacy #3: Argumentum ad populum / aka “Democratic Fallacy”
              => Given that a majority of people (e.g. editors and/or commenters and/or legislators) believe something to be true, it has no bearing on the actual truth of the matter. People are not perfect. Example: If 51% or more believe that “Slavery is morally good”, this does not make slavery morally good.

              So again, let’s get off me and onto the argument:

              I will state it again here:

              Would the Innovation Act have hurt small inventors and empowered large corporations in the small inventors pursuit against infringement from the large corporations?
              Yes or no.

              Because if yes, that is not beneficial patent reform, but I welcome your take on the argument.

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            2. Mike, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask you to identify yourself before continuing this argument — or else explain why you’re reluctant to do so.

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            3. And rather than answer the question, Jeff, another logical fallacy, the “appeal to nature”, has been introduced by you while the argument has been avoided yet again. “Appeal to nature” => Making the argument that because something is ‘natural’ it is therefore valid, inevitable, good, or ideal.

              According to you, it may not seem unreasonable to ask me to identify myself [because it seems natural], but according to the rules of logic, it’s not justified for the sake of the actual argument.

              And that is my explanation of why I’m reluctant to do so: It’s not justified for the sake of the argument. What matters is the argument. If I were Steve Jobs and now passed away, what difference does would it make with respect to the argument? None. The people who engage in arguments (or pick up where others left off) are irrelevant with respect to the actual truth of the argument.

              So as it currently stands, you have yet to respond to an argument that addresses the crux of your patent reform articles from a nobody. :)

              …Unless you would like to, and I more than welcome that.

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  7. JenniferDawn Thursday, May 22, 2014

    I wish I could buy my own Senator – how much do they go for these days, you think?

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