On 20 February 2014, the White House updated its plans to combat “patent trolls,” foster innovation, and improve the U.S. patent system.The Obama administration announced three new executive actions and again called on Congress to pass patent reform legislation, while also declaring “major progress” toward achieving plans it laid out in a June 2013 initiative. This week’s announcement is the latest effort by the White House to make it more difficult for frivolous litigation to hamper American innovators and consumers.
The new executive actions each involve plans to strengthen the quality of U.S. patents. The White House calls on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to launch an initiative described as “crowdsourcing prior art,” which aims to improve the ability to identify prior art so that patent examiners can more easily determine whether an invention is truly novel. In addition, the PTO will further expand its technical training of patent examiners and encourage pro bono and pro se assistance of inventors. With proponents of patent reform arguing that weak patents encourage abusive and anticompetitive litigation tactics, these initiatives are an attempt to prevent additional weak patents from being issued in the first place.
While the June 2013 initiatives are ongoing, the White House declared it has already delivered on several commitments. For one, the PTO will soon issue a final rule requiring increased transparency of ownership for parties involved in proceedings before the PTO. To counter the patent trolls that have sued “main street” retailers, the PTO will launch an online toolkit to help consumers and small businesses understand their rights and the risks and benefits of litigation or settlement. In general, the press release suggests the White House will remain aggressive in challenging alleged abuses of the patent system and will continue to look for ways to undermine the potential anticompetitive effects of patent assertion entities.