No matter what kind of business you're in, chances are good that you've got some important intellectual property to protect. Some companies protect their IP by keeping it proprietary, while others file patents. Unfortunately, patents have become a double-edged sword in recent years, meaning that companies could unexpectedly find themselves on the defense side of a lawsuit.
The reason for this problem is simple: Patent trolling. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has become inundated with requests due to the advancing pace of computer technology. In response, patents started to be granted with less scrutiny, allowing individuals to patent broad and vaguely worded ideas rather than specific products and inventions.
These opportunistic individuals, known as "patent trolls," then started suing companies and businesses for patent infringement. In most cases, their aim is to force a settlement because they know that most companies don't have the time or resources to handle protracted litigation.
It should be made clear that protecting one's legitimate patents is a worthy pursuit. To that end, litigation may be necessary. But patent trolling is another matter altogether. Most patent trolls produce nothing and create nothing. Instead, they exist only for opportunistic litigation against companies that do produce and create.
Thankfully, Congress is considering legislation that would make it more difficult for patent trolls to operate. One bill, called the Innovation Act, would:
- Require plaintiffs in patent lawsuits to cite specific harms suffered as a result of infringement
- Force the losing party to pay litigation costs if important claims made in the lawsuit were deemed questionable
- Shorten discovery periods in patent lawsuits
- Make it easier for other interested parties to join lawsuits
Interestingly, this is one of the few issues in Congress with bipartisan support. This is probably because patent trolling makes it harder for everyone to do business.
That being said, we'd like to reiterate that businesses do have a legitimate interest in enforcing their own intellectual property. That's why, when another individual or business infringes on patents in a way that harms your business, you should seek the help of an experienced business law attorney.