White House announces new NPE reforms


The US Government has pledged new measures aimed at targeting certain types of non-practising entities.

Yesterday, February 20, the Obama administration announced it would be pursuing three “executive actions” to combat the entities, sometimes referred to as ‘patent trolls’.

The measures, all directed at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), include: crowdsourcing information to determine prior art in a patent application, improving the examiner training programme and appointing a new co-ordinator to help companies that cannot afford legal representation.

The announcement is the latest attempt by the US Government to tackle the problem of companies filing abusive lawsuits based on dubious patents.

In addition to executive actions announced in 2013 to tackle the problem, there is also proposed legislation, the Innovation Act, which the House of Representatives passed in December.

In 2011, Obama also signed into law the America Invents Act (AIA), which awarded patents on a "first to file" basis rather than "first to invent."

Measures for determining prior art will include refining the USPTO’s third-party submission programme to help examiners use the information to reject questionable patent claims.

The USPTO should also make it easier for technologists and engineers to provide relevant training to the office’s examiners while also calling on volunteers to assist, the administration said.

Finally, a full-time official should be provided to help those who lack legal representation file applications as well as expanding the current AIA pro bono programme, which helps under-resourced businesses and inventors, from 28 states to 50.

The Obama administration said the issues were “crucial” to the economy, jobs and innovation.

“Overall the goal of these actions is clear: to encourage innovation, not litigation,” said commerce secretary Penny Pritzker, introducing the plans.

“Americans want to focus our time and resources on growth and hiring, not wasting money in our courtrooms,” she added.

Bob Stoll, partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Washington, DC, said he was hopeful the administration would pay more attention to helping the USPTO improve its examining procedure.

“The examiners need more time to examine; better databases; and, more legal training in addition to the proposed technical training that the administration has asked industry to supply.

“The hard-working examiners could do a much better job if the administration provided the full fees paid by applicants for examination, large amounts of which were diverted to other purposes for the past decade.”

Companies including Microsoft have welcomed the news.

In a blog post, Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel, said the company “applauds and supports” the efforts.

“Microsoft … is ready to partner with others to ensure the PTO is equipped to perform its delicate and increasingly technologically complex role. Taking steps like these is one important way the industry can do its part to improve the patent system,” Gutierrez added.

White House, NPEs, litigation, patent, prior-art,