Oh, how the times are changing. The last few weeks have brought significant encouraging news about the prospects for patent reform. Leaders in D.C., including the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, along with the President, have all acknowledged the essential need for immediate reform.
This is especially good news because just two years ago it seemed we could be waiting another generation for the next round of patent reform. In 2011, when Congress passed the America Invents Act (AIA), it was heralded as "the first meaningful, comprehensive reforms to the nation’s patent system in nearly 60 years."
At the time, we said this:
What is much worse, the legislation wholly fails to address many of the biggest problems plaguing the patent system, especially the problem of patent trolls. This is especially troubling now, as trolls are targeting small app developers, driving some of those developers out of the U.S. market entirely. The reform act also does nothing to limit patent damages by aligning them with any actual value of a patented invention. We hope legislators won’t treat the passage of patent reform legislation in 2011 as an excuse to ignore the growing troll problem, which stymies innovation, hurting individual inventors, small businesses, and our economy at large.
Now, almost two years later, it appears that others are coming around to our point of view. First, President Obama spoke out about trolls and their extortion schemes, admitting that the AIA didn't fix the problem. Then we heard from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and, thus, controls what issues that committee will take up this Congress. He promised that the committee will "focus on reforms to discourage frivolous patent litigation and keep U.S. patent laws up to date," an important statement signaling that change could be coming. And the latest sign that something will happen: Sen. Patrick Leahy, a coauthor and great defender of the AIA as well as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this week that there "is more Congress can do to improve the patent system and address the problem of patent trolling, by increasing transparency and accountability."
What does this all mean? It means that every key player—the Representative and Senator who actually control which bills get a vote, along with the President—has recognized that the patent system needs reform. It also means that now is the time to dig in. Contact your representatives in Congress and tell them you support the SHIELD Act, important legislation that would go a long way to fixing the patent troll problem.
We hear more legislative proposals are coming, so watch this space for more information. We'll let you know what's good and what's bad, and also let you know what you can do to help the fight to get dangerous patents out of the way of innovation. To be sure, the root of this problem is software patents, and we're working hard to convince courts and policymakers that we need real reform that targets the source of the trouble. But, in the meantime, we'll continue working with those who are open to making the world safer from trolls and bad patents, and we hope you'll join us.