Friday, 21 February 2014

White House Announces Array Of Programs To Fight Trolls, Improve Patent Quality

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama promised further action to improve the U.S. patent system, stating (to significant applause) that the government should "pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation."  While more than a dozen patent-related bills percolate in the Congress, Obama has taken some steps to advance his goals through executive actions.

On February 20, the White House announced a series of programs to combat the patent troll problem and to improved the quality of patents generally. Three new programs were announced: (1) new procedures to allow examiner to take advantage of "crowd-sourced" prior art by making it easier for members of the public to bring prior art to the attention of the office; (2) better training for examiners in areas of rapidly-advancing technology; and (3) expanding the USPTO's patent pro bono initiative to cover low-income inventors in all 50 states.

The Whites House also reported on its progress on initiatives announced earlier.
  • The USPTO has proposed a new rules requiring patentees to report the "attributable owners" of patents, making it harder for trolls to operate anonymously through shell companies. Those rules are in the public comment stage.
  • A better training program for USPTO examiners, focusing on improving claims; 
  • A new "toolkit" on the USPTO website proving small businesses with advice on what to do if sued by a patent troll. You can access a beta version of that toolkit HERE.
  • Better outreach to stakeholders and expanding the Edison Scholars program to enlist more academics and researchers to study the NPE problem. 
  • New procedures relating to enforcing exclusion orders from the ITC.
You can download a detailed Factsheet about these efforts from the White House website HERE. Although these steps seem incremental, and largely symbolic, they do suggest an effort to keep some momentum behind legislative patent reform efforts.

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