President Barack Obama took steps on Tuesday aimed at curbing what the White House called frivolous lawsuits over patent infringement, directing his administration to craft new regulations and urging Congress to pass new laws.
The move — announced ahead of an Obama fundraising trip this week to Silicon Valley in California — comes at a time when U.S. lawmakers and courts also are looking for ways to reduce the number of unwarranted patent lawsuits.
The package of proposed legislation and rule-making takes aim at lawsuits brought by companies, disparagingly called “patent trolls,” that do not make or sell anything but merely license existing patents and sue others for infringement.
Such lawsuits have ballooned in recent years, particularly in the technology sector.
Cisco Systems Inc, Apple Inc., Google Inc. and other big technology companies have been pushing for legislation that would reduce the number of times each year that they are sued for infringement.
Among other steps, the White House called on Congress to pass legislation to make it easier for a federal judge to award legal fees to the winner of a patent case if the judge deems the lawsuit abusive.
It also asked lawmakers to take up the issue of companies going to the U.S. International Trade Commission to request sales bans for products made with technology that infringes upon an existing patent because that panel’s standard for ordering such an injunction is lower than a U.S. district court’s.
The disparity has led to a tidal wave of patent infringement complaints filed at the ITC.
Obama also asked lawmakers to require companies that sue for infringement to have updated ownership information on file with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He urged the patent office to write a similar regulation.
Obama’s actions were aimed at improving incentives for high-tech innovation, a major driver of economic growth, the White House said in a statement.
“Stopping this drain on the American economy will require swift legislative action, and we are encouraged by the attention the issue is receiving in recent weeks,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
The patent office will also train examiners to try to prevent overly broad software patents from being granted, and provide clearer information for retailers and consumers who find themselves facing potential litigation, the White House said.
Companies specializing in patent litigation filed 2,921 infringement lawsuits in 2011 — 62 percent of all such cases filed, Colleen Chien, who teaches patent law at Santa Clara University Law School, said in a blog post for Patently-O.
Figures for this year and last year were not available.