Congress to vote on bill that aims to stop patent trolling

A Samsung smart phone and Apple smart phone--the quintessential patent lawsuit. Congress is trying to make patent lawsuits harder. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Congress is trying to crack down on “patent trolls,” one of the most frustrating problems for the technology sector.

The House of Representatives is voting Thursday on the Innovation Act, which would make it harder for companies to buy patents primarily to sue other innovators — a process colloquially known as “trolling” that has led to frivolous lawsuits over ideas like who invented podcasts.

The bill being debated in Congress would make companies suing over a patent explain how they plan to use their rights. It also would lower the cost of fighting a patent lawsuit. The bill, written by Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, passed the Judiciary Committee last month with bipartisan support, and even the White House has come out in favor of the bill.

“The bill would improve incentives for future innovation while protecting the overall integrity of the patent system,” the president said in a statement.

But the act is more controversial outside of Washington. Some businesses have argued it will infringe on their intellectual property rights.

The Hill reports that a company that often sues over patents, Intellectual Ventures, said in a statement  the bill “will make it harder, more expensive and more time consuming to enforce patent rights.”

And former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, wrote in an op-ed this week that the bill is “misguided” in part because it could hurt universities that invent products and ideas but don’t manufacture them.

Even still, the bill seems likely to pass. It has the support of tech giants like Microsoft, whose leaders have said it strikes the right balance between protecting innovation and stopping frivolous lawsuits.

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