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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Judiciary Committee Examines Patent Troll Legislation

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs
    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy

    The Senate Judiciary Committee March 18 held a hearing titled The Impact of Abusive Patent Litigation Practices on the American Economy to address the tactics of so-called “patent trolls.” The discussion focused on finding a balanced approach to curbing abusive practices and frivolous lawsuits while preserving the ability of patent holders to protect their inventions.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), opened the hearing making a clear distinction between legitimate and bad actors, “Patent assertion entities focus on buying and asserting patents, rather than on developing or commercializing patented inventions. Now I want to make clear that licensing one’s patent is not in itself a bad thing. Inventors and patent owners, including universities, often aren’t in a position to commercialize their patented inventions – but they certainly have the right to protect their intellectual property against infringers.”

    In his opening statement, Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted, “Many have raised concerns that, if taken too far, litigation reforms like those in the House-passed Innovation Act would harm legitimate patent holders when they enforce their rights in court. I agree we must find a balance.”

    Michael R. Crum, Ph.D., Vice President for Economic Development and Business Engagement, Iowa State University, presented testimony endorsed by the AAMC, the Association of American Universities (AAU), the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), and the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR).

    Dr. Crum’s testimony reiterated the importance of balance, highlighted the role of academic institutions in the nation’s innovation system, and stated that “the nation’s academic institutions support multi-pronged efforts to target abusive behaviors, including but not limited to balanced patent litigation legislation, such as the STRONG Patents Act of 2015 and the Patent Transparency Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 1720)”.

    Dr. Crum also urged a cautious approach, recognizing, that “[s]everal judicial and administrative actions have occurred since the initial patent litigation reform proposals were advanced in 2013. These actions call for a broad re-evaluation of patent litigation before proceeding with proposals that could do serious damage to the strong U.S. patent system.”

    Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) all acknowledged the concerns of universities.

    Sens. Durbin and Whitehouse also highlighted opposition to the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), which was sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and passed by the House in the 113th Congress.