New Patent Reform Bill Defines Software Patents; Targets Trolls
from the well-that's-interesting... dept
We’ve discussed the “America Invents Act,” a patent reform bill that passed last year after years of Congressional fighting. As we (and plenty of others) noted at the time, for all the hyperbole around the bill, it completely ignored nearly every problem with the patent system today, and seemed almost entirely useless. Our worry, then, was that this would kill off any appetite for Congress to take on the real problems of patents today. So it’s good to see that a new patent bill has been introduced — by Reps. Peter DeFazio and Jason Chaffetz, with a very, very minor change to patent law: it would allow those sued for hardware or software patents the ability to recover litigation costs if it’s determined that the suing patent holder “did not have a reasonable likelihood of succeeding.”
In other words, this is a bill targeted very directly at the pure trolls: the patent holders who sue companies with no real intention of taking a case to court, but rather just to get them to pay a settlement fee to avoid the (expensive) court costs in defending a patent infringement claim (which is quite frequently much more expensive than the settlement options):
Notwithstanding section 285, in an action disputing the validity or alleging the infringement of a computer hardware or software patent, upon making a determination that the party alleging the infringement of the patent did not have a reasonable likelihood of succeeding, the court may award the recovery of full costs to the prevailing party, including reasonable attorney’s fees, other than the United States.
But what’s much more interesting about this is that it seeks to carve out a specific definition for software patents. I know that in software circles there’s been plenty of talk over the years about the problems of software patents, and many don’t believe that software should be patentable at all. However, as defenders of the patent system like to point out, there’s no such “thing” as a “software patent” defined in the law, so it would be difficult to say software isn’t subject to patents. Well… this bill defines software patents:
SOFTWARE PATENT.–The term ‘software patent’ means a patent that covers–
“(A) any process that could be implemented in a computer regardless of whether a computer is specifically mentioned in the patent; or
“(B) any computer system that is programmed to perform a process described in subparagraph (A).”.
Given the massive fight in previous years over patent reform, I fully expect to see patent system supporters throw a massive hissy fit over this very, very minor change to patent law, but it’s so minor that I’m at a loss as to how they’ll have any compelling argument. The only reason I can think to be against the changes here is if you’re in the business of abusing the patent system to shake down innovators. I actually think that supporters of the patent system, such as pharma companies, should support this kind of change too. If the patent system can successfully slice off the problems associated with software patents, it means that there will be less pressure for massive patent system changes.
Of course, if you want real patent reform that takes on the larger issues that impact all sorts of areas (beyond just software), we’ve made clear our suggestions — though there doesn’t seem to be any appetite in Congress to make such major changes in the near future.