Our comments filed with the FTC today support an investigation into the secretive world of patent trolls.
For a patent reformer like me, this is an exciting time. Every part of government wants to get involved. The House of Representatives just passed a momentous patent litigation reform bill, the Supreme Court is taking on three major patent cases, and the White House is moving forward with its executive actions. These efforts are all critical, as they target the well-known abusive practices that patent trolls take advantage of to harm startups, small businesses, and the public.
But even with all this going on, there is a looming question: do we really know everything that is going on? Many patent trolls are shady figures, hiding behind shell corporations and sending out mysterious but threatening demand letters. Who knows what abuses might be going on in the shadows.
Enter the Federal Trade Commission. As an agency tasked with consumer protection, the FTC has powers to conduct investigations, and on September 27, the FTC announced it would use this power to investigate patent trolls.
We believe that this study is an important and substantial step in bringing about good patent reform, and we explain why in comments filed with the FTC today, in partnership with EFF and Engine Advocacy. The information to be discovered will be incredibly valuable to the patent reform discussion, beyond just the FTC. Researchers, businesses, and policymakers will all be able to use the investigation results to better understand the hidden underworld of patent assertion.
An important aspect of this study is that the FTC is signaling that patent assertion abuse is a consumer problem. As the FTC stated in its notice of the study, patent assertion is one of those “cutting-edge competition and consumer protection topics that may have a significant effect on the U.S. economy.” We look forward to a thorough, comprehensive study that shines light on how patent trolls and patent abuses affect consumers and the public.
Postscript: I’d like to give a special thanks to our law clerk, Stephen Wang, who almost singlehandedly researched and prepared these comments, and knocked it out of the park. To our future interns: this is the type of substantive work you get here, and this is certainly an example to aspire to.
Image credit: Noelle Murata