August 9, 2011

The Spoilsmen: How #Congress Corrupted #Patent Reform

When legislators first introduced a patent bill in 2005, they designed it to lower the costs of lawsuits burdening Internet and software companies. Lured by the big, juicy settlements to be won by suing huge companies for intellectual property theft, an entire industry had emerged around patent chasing alone. These so-called "patent trolls" don't produce any goods. Instead, they secure unclaimed patents for ideas in use and try to cash out in court.
Trolls file hundreds of lawsuits a year over "low quality" patents -- lobbyist legal jargon for the questionable or downright bizarre patents routinely granted by the understaffed Patent and Trademark Office. In recent years, patents have been approved for products including a wheeled flower pot (patent No. 7,908,942), the crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich (patent No. 6,004,596), a decorative box that can be placed in a casket (No. 7,908,942) and an accounting scheme that helps people dodge taxes by moving stock options around (No. 6,567,790). Once approved by the patent office, it's difficult and costly to overturn the patent in courts, which grant significant deference to the office's decisions. 

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