March 1, 2013 | By Dave Maass

SHIELD Act: The Internet Shows It’s Ready to Smash Patent Trolls

The Internet is ready for patent reform.

In the days since Reps. Peter DeFazio and Jason Chaffetz introduced their patent-troll-smashing SHIELD Act (Saving High-tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes), there’s been a steady increase in attention and momentum, both in the press and among the public at large, to the issue of vexatious patent lawsuits.

Over the last few years, the tech sector has seen a shocking increase in activity by litigious, so-called patent trolls. These are companies who specialize not in inventing and producing things, but filing dubious patent infringement lawsuits. Their strategy is to bully true creators and innovators—say, podcasters like Adam Carolla—into settlements through the threat of huge legal bills. The SHIELD Act would balance out the system by requiring patent trolls to pay for these legal bills if they lose in court because the patent is found to be invalid or there is no infringement.

As of Friday morning, more than 7,500 people have sent letters to their members of Congress through EFF’s Action Center. Powerful groups like the Consumer Electronics Association have signed on to the legislation. Podcasters Marc Maron and John Hodgman deserve extra special props for leading the charge on the Twittersphere.  Now Politico is reporting that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday.

It’s important to note how much the press has picked up on the issue. Here are some of things that are being said in the media.

Adweek describes the bill as potentially the “first nail in the coffin” for patent trolls:

This could be the year Congress takes serious action against patent trolls, non-practicing entities that buy up patents and virtually extort companies to pay up for violating frivolous patents. 

A good first step could be a bill re-introduced Wednesday by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that would force plaintiffs to pay all of a defendant's legal costs if the patent lawsuit fails in court.

The Daily Caller, Corporate Counsel and PCWorld each had solid explainers, while BoingBoing posted a comprehensive call to action from Podcast411:

This bill is definitely not a Republican or a Democrat Bill - nor is this a podcasting bill - this is at its heart an anti-patent troll bill. Patent Trolls are attacking Wifi at coffee shops, Scanning documents at small businesses, and now podcasting. They must be stopped and you have a chance right now to help out. 

I hope some day when the whole sad story of Patent Trolls is finally written - the turning point will be when they went after Podcasters and the Podcast listeners helped get the SHIELD Act passed into Law.

Writing in Forbes, tech association CEO Ed Black highlights the costs, as much as $29 billion in 2011:

While the SHIELD Act won’t fix our dysfunctional patent system, it would chip away at the insanity that is stifling innovation and costing our economy billions.

Tim Worstall, also appearing in Forbes, is critical of the bill, but his heart is in the right place; he says the bill doesn’t go far enough. TechDirt’s Mike Masnick characterized the patent system as a “massive economic sinkhole,” which the SHIELD Act would begin to pave over:

I think it's a good thing, though just a very, very small step towards dealing with the larger problems of the patent system. I signed onto a letter from EFF and Engine Advocacy in support of the bill, but really wish we could go much further in reforming the system.

The Register hilariously describes the bill as going “Nick Fury on the lawyers” in its coverage. However, they’re only semi-optimistic:

It remains to be seen if Congress can get its collective arse into gear and take some action, but the dynamic congressional duo of DeFazio and Chaffetz seem confident that the SHIELD Act will at least get through the House of Representatives...

El Reg remains skeptical, but there'll be some serious lobbying muscle behind this attempt to bring sanity to the US patent system.

Finally, here’s the recording of the press conference that kicked it all off:

mytubethumbplay
Privacy info. This embed will serve content from youtube.com

You too can join EFF in the fight against patent trolls by supporting the SHIELD Act – contact your lawmaker now.

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