NRF applauds White House's actions on patent trolls

The National Retail Federation sent a message of encouragement to the government, which it praised for its attention to the ongoing patent troll case while urging Congress to solidify protections for retailers.

“The National Retail Federation credits the administration’s attention to strengthening the United States patent system and proposing a series of measures aimed at protecting Main Street retailers and restaurants from abusive patent trolls," said NRF SVP David French in a statement issued Feb. 20 before his meetings at the White House, where the administration called on Congress later that day to pass comprehensive legislation. "The president has recognized the economic harm caused by patent trolls, and we welcome the administration’s leadership on this priority. Further transparency, clarity, education and enforcement are all welcome steps for the nation’s business community."

The White House announced delivery on a number of initiatives that day following up to President Obama's State of the Union address, including a draft rule by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office aimed at promoting transparency, a pilot training program to help USPTO examiners promote patent clarity, an online toolkit aimed at educating consumers and main-street retailers on their rights regarding patent claim settlements, and other actions designed to strengthen the existing patent system.

It also announced three executive actions to take effect immediately while it waits for Congress to "finish the job by passing common-sense patent reform legislation." These include a new initiative to help patent holders find, or crowdsource, "prior art" (or technical information that will help determine whether the patent in question is truly an innovation); an expansion of the USPTO's Patent Examiner Technical Training Program to provide better technical training to patentexaminers; and the dedication of pro bono and pro se assistance by the USPTO to help inventors without the means to access legal representation.

The House of Representatives passed the Innovation Act in December by wide margins. Meanwhile, an analagous Senate version (called the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act), led by Senate judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)., is likely slated for a hearing sometime this month. Once the Senate passes that bill, a conference committee would reconcile it with the House bill, which would then be signed off on by the President.

“The administration has created a path forward for Congress to address patent trolls and we urge them to take up that responsibility now," added French.

In the meantime, Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairman of the consumer protection subcommittee, introduced a bill last Thursday to help increase transparency in patent troll demand letters. Called the Transparency in Assertion of Patents Act, the bill would increase the Federal Trade Commission's authority in requiring minimum disclosures from patent infringement claims.