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Four months after the House passed a far-reaching bill to prevent abusive patent infringement lawsuits, senators are close to striking a deal on their own legislation, according to aides in both parties.
The bipartisan, bicameral push to crack down on so-called patent trolls has the support of the White House, is a top priority for Silicon Valley and represents the rare policy area in which lawmakers believe they can overcome election-year gridlock and send a major bill to President Barack Obama’s desk.
Obama even singled out the arcane issue during his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, urging lawmakers to “pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation.”
While there is clear momentum behind the effort, there are also potential obstacles as the Senate debate shifts from closed-door negotiations to a public focus on a manager’s amendment to a bill (S 1720) that could be introduced and voted on in the Judiciary Committee as early as next week.
The same powerful economic forces that have made legislation a priority also guarantee that reaching an ultimate deal will be tricky, as deep-pocketed tech firms, pharmaceutical companies, research universities and other stakeholders wage an expensive lobbying battle to ensure that the final details of the agreement are to their liking.
Google, Dell, Adobe, Verizon, BlackBerry and other major tech interests want the Senate to replicate key provisions in the House-passed bill, which would change the rules of the civil justice system in an effort to shut down the business model favored by trolls, or “patent assertion entities,” that acquire vaguely worded or broad patents and then sue other companies for infringing on them as a way to extract costly legal settlements or licensing fees.
The House bill, for instance, includes a provision that would require the loser in an infringement case to pay the winning side’s costs — a powerful disincentive to meritless litigation. Tech firms say the “loser pays” provision and other aggressive steps are needed because they spend too much time and money defending themselves against troll lawsuits in court, when they should be focusing on the innovation that spurs the economy.