With well over $100 billion in the bank, it’s no great surprise that Apple, more than any other company on the planet, finds itself on the receiving end of lawsuits initiated by patent trolls. In 2012 alone, Apple was hit with 44 lawsuits from patent trolls, otherwise known as non-practicing entities (NPE).
Seemingly, barely a week goes by without news of an obscure and often shady company taking Apple to court for allegedly infringing upon some questionable patent that was acquired second or third hand.
While many topics in the tech world are often the cause of intense and passionate debate, the one issue that seemingly everyone can agree upon is that patent trolls are nothing more than poisonous entities looking to make a quick buck by piggybacking off of the success of others. Lodsys, for example, comes to mind.
All that said, there may be good news on the horizon.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Barack Obama on Tuesday will announce a new plan intent on minimizing the prevalence and impact of lawsuits brought forth by patent trolls. All told, Obama’s plan includes five executive actions and seven legislative recommendations.
Mr. Obama’s actions, which include measures he wants Congress to consider, are intended to target firms that have forced technology companies, financial institutions and others into costly litigation to protect their products. These patent-holding firms amass portfolios of patents more to pursue licensing fees than to build new products.
To help deter questionable lawsuits, the Obama administration plans to, among other things, direct the Patent and Trademark Office to start a rule-making process aimed at requiring patent holders to disclose the owner of a patent, according to senior Obama administration officials. Businesses sometimes are sued by shell companies and don’t always know who actually owns the patent they are being accused of infringing, and whether the firm holds other relevant patents.
Obama’s plan will also seek to pass legislation which would slap patent trolls with sanctions when they initiate lawsuits which are found to be abusive.
To his credit, Obama appears to appreciate the threat patent trolls can have on the innovative process and, by extension, the American economy. Back in February, for instance, he remarked that patent trolls exist solely to “leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.”
Political leanings aside, I imagine that that’s a sentiment most people can get behind.
What’s more, Obama will reportedly recommend that the USPTO to take a more discerning look at overly broad technology patents insofar as they are typically the type of patents wielded by patent trolls. After all, if conveniently vague and seemingly useless patent applications aren’t granted in the first place, patent trolls won’t have any patents to pester other companies with to begin with.
Lastly, the Journal notes that Obama’s plan will also seek to limit the extent to which companies can utilize the International Trade Commission (ITC) to seek import bans against competing products. As it stands now, Apple has a few cases of its own pending at the ITC.