Washington, D.C., partner Bob Stoll was interviewed on Federal News Radio’s Federal Drive Show about the proposed changes to regulations and laws on so-called “patent trolls.” President Barack Obama has asked Congress to pass legislation restricting companies that amass patents with no intention of ever using them. In the meantime, he has directed the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to ferret out the trolls and more carefully examine applicants for new patents.
Bob, a former USPTO Commissioner for Patents, said he wasn’t sure that patent trolls were a major problem for the economy but expressed that it becomes an issue when patent trolls try to get funds or licenses based on patents that were improperly granted. Entities that go after the little guy when they know they don’t have a good claim is a problem, he said.
Bob said it is difficult to say who or what constitutes a patent troll because it depends on your definition. A troll is basically considered to be a non-practicing entity or patent-asserting entity; however, many universities don’t practice their patents but license them out or sell them. An innovative university might, therefore, be considered a patent troll under some definitions.
When it comes to defining a patent troll, Bob said there are really two considerations: the validity of the patent and the way it is used. For example, there is every reason for folks with no interest in manufacturing to sell their watertight patent to another party and get back to inventing, if that’s what they love to do.
When asked what has made it hard for the USPTO to get a handle on the issue, Bob emphasized that resources are key. “Many of these issues could be taken care of by giving the patent office more resources, more time, more training to be able to do a better job to examine the applications,” he said. “Sequestration has taken money out of their coffers. They need more resources to do a better job and I think [if that were to happen] most of the troll issues would go away.”
On the subject of the president’s executive order to Congress, Bob said that some of the directions are good, such as transparency and ownership, which give potential licensees a much better understanding. He takes issue, however, with talk of expanding the covered business methods to software. “I don’t even think that’s a troll issue and that puts more uncertainty into our patenting, our research and our funds for making software,” he said.
“Some of the areas we’re talking about, software, diagnostic methods, personalized medicines, are areas where the United States leads the world. What we should do first are things that would improve the system, i.e. more time and more effort for patent examination.”
On the issue of the patentability of software debate in general, Bob said that “properly examined claims dealing with software should remain patentable and should not be differentiated from any other type of claim.”
“Software is critical and there are ways of protecting it,” he said.
“I don’t think we should go back and revisit the entire system when software inventions in the United States are driving job creation and economic growth.”
To listen to the interview, click here.