The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the research division of Congress known for its objective studies, recently released a report on the effects of patent trolls on innovation and the economy. The study (PDF) presents a pretty thorough analysis of the patent troll problem, but what's striking is its existence at all: Could it be that Congress is really starting to pay attention when it comes to fixing the broken patent system?
Patent trolls are litigious entities that don't usually create new products or come up with new ideas. Instead, they buy up patents and use them offensively. Armed with often overbroad and vague patents, the trolls send out threatening letters to those they argue are infringing. According to the CRS report, "The vast majority of defendants settle because patent litigation is risky, disruptive, and expensive, regardless of the merits; and many [patent trolls] set royalty demands strategically well below litigation costs to make the business decision to settle an obvious one." Businesses lose both time and money, and innovation suffers.
We've known for some time just how much of a problem patent trolls pose. Last summer, This American Life made patent trolls mainstream with an extremely popular episode that covered such trolls' crusades against innvovation. Just recently, members of Congress introduced the SHIELD Act, legislation that would create a fee-shifting system, helping destroy any incentives behind trolls' frivolous lawsuits. And now publication of this CRS report shows that the patent troll problem is still on the minds of those with the power to fix it.
Without a doubt, [patent trolls] both add to and subtract from the incentives of patent law, but the FTC and many experts in the field indicate that they currently do more harm than good to innovation and the patent system. The extent of this imbalance—and whether Congress could or should recalibrate it to 'support the beneficial effects, and lessen the detrimental ones'—remains unclear, however.
These conclusions throughout the report reinforce why, now more than ever, it is important to give your feedback to our Defend Innovation campaign.
Here's the thing: if Congress is truly paying attention, we need to make sure they are getting the full story—and that's where our Defend Innovation project and you come in. Go to the site and check out our proposals. Let us know if you agree with them or if you have something better in mind. Once we've collected your feedback, comments, and stories—and we've had over 13,000 participants so far—we are going to bring them to D.C. and let Congress know exactly who is affected, how the system is flawed, and what they can do to really fix it.