Trolls square off against tech in patent reform fight

5 03 2009

Over 50 years after its last major overhaul, there’s a widespread sense that the US patent system has gone off the rails. The US Patent and Trademark office sits on a backlog of over a million patent applications, with applicants facing an average wait of three years for a decision. Those long lines don’t appear to have prevented the granting of many patents of dubious quality—a problem exacerbated by the explosion of lawsuits by “Non-Practicing Entities” (affectionately known as patent trolls), which, in recent years, have come to account for more than 10 percent of all patent litigation.

Congressional efforts to reform the system stalled in the Senate last year but, on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of legislators resurrected the Patent Reform Act, sponsored in the House by John Conyers (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), and in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The reforms have been widely welcomed by major tech and software firms and their trade associations—among them Google, Apple, Microsoft, Symantec, Intel, and the Business Software Alliance. But they face stiff opposition from biotech and pharmaceutical firms—not to mention patent trolls fearful of seeing their cash cow vanish.

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