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  (Source: Magnet)
Meanwhile states take the fight to settle-or-sue trolls themselves

It's widely acknowledged among veteran legal experts that the patent and copyright systems are broken.  Much of the human genome is "patented" by biotech firms preventing cancer research and other medical progress.  Big electronics companies like Apple, Inc. (AAPL) are patenting things like "rectangular body with curved edges" and suing their rivals.  Meanwhile, all these big players are also under attack from the bottom by "patent trolls" companies that produce nothing, buy up collections of intellectual property, and sue those who do produce via shell companies.

I. Congress to FTC: Help Us Fight the Trolls

When it comes to the latter problem -- the so-called patent trolls -- some members of Congress are feeling pressure from their corporate sponsors who paid their way into office.  Under fire to take some sort of action, Congress appears uneager to pass new laws to explicitly attack the patent assertion entities (PAEs) (a euphemism for "patent troll").

Two lawmakers, Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) have urged the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to use its ambiguously defined powers to examine whether PAEs are behaving abusively and crack down on them with fines or lawsuits, if necessary.

Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) [Image Source: Getty Images]

Rep. Chu dropped the euphemism and called a troll a troll, remarking, "We can't let patent trolls hide under the bridge any longer—we must expose them of their deceptive practices.  Patent trolls abuse the marketplace for financial gain and target end users who have every right to enjoy the products and services they purchased. The FTC has a role to play in ensuring every American consumer is protected from those who use wrongful business practices to make a quick buck."

Yet with five IP reform bills introduced or drafted, Congress still has yet to take any real action against the trolls.  The last piece of major legislation that affected the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was the "America Invents Act of 2011".  Since then efforts -- particularly those focused on the trolls -- have stalled as Congress was afraid that passing changes could hurt a fragile economy.

II. Vermont Takes a Stand Against Top Troll

While some companies like Apple engage in so-called "mild trolling" -- patenting ambiguous claims and then using them anti-competitively -- "true" trolls (PAEs) are known for filing lawsuits against dozens, or even hundreds of companies relying on the fact that it costs more to fight the charges in court and get them dismissed than it does to settle.

One proposed solution has been to pass legislation to make it easier for the defendants to collect legal fees in cases where the lawsuits are determined by a court to have been inappropriate.

However, until those efforts stick, some states are taking matters into their own hands.  

In Vermont a company called MPHJ Technology Investments (via its "Project Paperless" campaign) sent letters to "thousands" of nonprofits and businesses threatening to sue them over violations of its patent (U.S. Patent No. 7,986,426) on scanning documents into email.  The "troll", who has never actually gone to court yet, is demanding up to $1,200 USD per employee (but settling for smaller sums).  The scanning threat/extortion scheme is one of several settle-or-sue campaigns by the over 40 shell companies owned by MPHJ.

Scan Wide
"Troll" company MPHJ claims to "own" an exclusive patent on scanning and sending email.
[Image Source: eHow]

Further, Amber Cite reports that the patents appear to be predated by dozens of near-identical patents.

In response to this threat, the Vermont legislature hurried through a "consumer protection" bill (Vermont Consumer Protection Act9 V.S.A. §§ 2451) granting the state the ability to countersue trolls for abusive behavior.  The bill was passed last month.  That same day Vermont's Attorney General William Sorrell filed suit against MPHJ noting that, "[The company] performed little, if any due diligence to confirm that the targeted businesses were actually infringing its patents prior to sending these letters."

Sources: Rep. Blake Farenthold, Vermont AG



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RE: Punch to the face
By bug77 on 6/9/2013 2:50:28 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The Patent Office is entirely subjective. All a company needs is one person who is slightly biased towards them and viola.


It's actually a little worse than that. The whole USPTO is slightly biased, since companies pay USPTO a sum for each awarded patent. So if you, as an honest USPTO employee frequently forget that the patents you reject are money lost for your employer, it's a pretty safe bet a supervisor will step in and make sure you're reminded from time to time.


RE: Punch to the face
By tdktank59 on 6/10/2013 11:18:57 AM , Rating: 2
What if we changed it so you have to pay no matter what, and maybe it will start making companies start thinking about submitting multiple times until it gets approved since it will cost the same amount each time wether or not it gets approved.

Isn't the cost supposed to cover the expense of the processing of the application, since it requires doing a bit of research to see if it already exists and what not. Basically labor costs to approve the application.

I think that would solve it right there, the USPTO wouldn't care if they approved applications or not. Maybe then they would start doing their jobs!


RE: Punch to the face
By ipay on 6/10/2013 5:11:11 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds good but only if you don't consider that many patents are not filed by companies but rather by individuals who might not have the monetary resources to make sure their ideas are protected in a pay-first model.


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov














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