Today, Public Knowledge, along with Engine, EFF, and the App Developers Alliance, sent a letter to the Senate urging them to pass a strong patent reform bill. Although many sides have weighed in throughout the patent debate in Congress, we believed that it was important to have the voice of the consumer and the public interest heard.
As I’ve written about before, patent trolls and patent abuses harm consumers in two ways. The first, obviously, is that they raise prices on products, often without any corresponding benefit to inventors or innovation. The second is that consumers today are all users of all sorts of technologies, and patent lawsuits that block or stifle those technologies are basically trampling on the rights of consumers.
Specifically, we called on the Senate to pass these reforms:
- Curbing deceptive demand letters: An abusive threat of patent litigation can cost American jobs and keep valuable products and services from consumers. These harms are especially felt by small and growing businesses. Unfair and deceptive demand letters are a consumer problem that demands oversight.
- Promoting meaningful fee shifting: When patent trolls have nothing to lose, they assert low-quality patents and take unjustified positions on them, undercutting the public’s access to technology. Curbing patent trolls will require a strong message that baseless and abusive lawsuits will presumptively warrant fee shifting.
- Requiring fair notice in pleadings: Patent trolls frequently hide behind barebones complaints and shell companies. Requiring a clear, informative complaint will give fair notice to the parties, facilitates early settlement, and informs the public.
- Balancing the financial burden of discovery: Patent litigation discovery is often unnecessarily costly. Provisions that carefully rebalance the time and burdens of cost will correct that unnecessary imbalance.
- Protecting customers in patent litigation: Small businesses and consumers who buy off-the-shelf technology products should be shielded from the complexities of patent litigation, when there is a willing manufacturer who is better equipped to handle the litigation.
The most important aspect of this letter was making sure that Congress hears the voice of the public and consumers. Big technology companies with huge lobbying budgets can easily and loudly participate in this debate. The same goes for institutional patent holders with millions of dollars’ worth of patents. All of these large entities have strong and substantial interests in the patent system.
But these interests ultimately must be in the service of the public, since patents must ultimately serve the public. Patents are given out to encourage the creation of new technologies that are made available to consumers. So the voice of the technology-using public is paramount in deciding patent policy. With our letter, we are telling Congress to listen carefully to that voice.
Image credit: Joey Rozier