No doubt, Patent Reform is a hot topic these days.  But would you believe City of Chicago Aldermen are now hosting a Patent Litigation Abuse Round Table?  Apparently, all the Supreme Court and Congressional interest is not enough.  Now our local leaders need to get involved as well.  Indeed, with the Supreme Court releasing its decision on a pair of 35 U.S.C. § 285 cases, to a potential US Senate vote on a bill designed to protect against patent trolls, the last couple weeks certainly have been ripe for discussion.

The following is Part I of three entries that will post over the upcoming days that offer another perspective on the debate.  Part I offers a general introduction, Part II will present a perspective on the patent system as a whole and introduce one alternative solution beyond more legislation, and Part III concludes with a second alternative solution and a brief conclusion.

Thanks to Dan Gelwicks, a law student currently finishing up his second year at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, for spearheading this post.  Dan is specifically interested in patent law and recently worked as an extern in Steptoe’s Chicago office.

Part 1 of 3 – General Introduction

  1. Local Chicago Round Table Discussion

Calling for “Patent Reform” based on the perceived onslaught of “Patent Trolls” has been widespread thus far in 2014.  And, it has spread far afield from the IP industry.  In fact, a couple Fridays ago, Friday a “Patent Litigation Abuse Round Table” was held in Chicago with local and state officials weighing in on the state of the federal law and what can be done locally to curb the behavior of such trolls.

As reported by DNAinfo, the conversation appeared rather one sided and rather typical of the rhetoric heard by those following Patent Reform: trolls engage in “crude targeting practice” that hampers innovation.  Yet, this “round table” didn’t seem to be “round” – where was the balanced discussion?  Missing from the round table was anyone who might oppose quick and broad patent reform, aimed to kill off the patent trolls.  Having a discussion is a good first step, but understanding both sides is the best way to an effective solution.

The round table focused on the alleged impact of those companies that only seek to license or litigate based on “weak” or “bad” patents.  The local Chicago tech industry, the target of the round table, implored assistance from local authorities claiming that trolls are exploiting young technology firms through their coercive behavior.

Not surprisingly, there is a call to protect companies from “meritless claims” and “illegal tolls” brought on by abusive “non-real” companies (quoting some of local Alderman Michele Smith’s language).  But where is the call to the USPTO through agency action to limit the grant of such “bad patents?”  New legislation isn’t needed for the agency to take action.  What about praise and curiosity for the federal courts across the nation using their current powers reign-in frivolous lawsuits?  Currently courts can grant sanctions and fees under FRCP 11(c) (as they did in Jump Rope’s case highlighted at the round table) and 35 U.S.C. §285.