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Policy

White House Seeks To Bolster Patent System

Innovation: Administration takes steps to prevent the granting of weak patents, frivolous patent litigation

by Glenn Hess
February 28, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 9

Obama Administration officials say they are taking steps to ensure that fewer weak patents are granted by the U.S. government. They are also working on safeguards to protect inventors from frivolous litigation.

The executive actions seek to combat what technology giants such as Google and Microsoft call “patent trolls,” firms that buy vague or low-quality patents and then try to extract licensing fees or file infringement lawsuits against end users of the technologies.

President Barack Obama stressed the need for patent litigation reform in his State of the Union address in January. But with Congress in gridlock, the President has been acting unilaterally on key policy issues, including in the area of intellectual property.

The steps announced by the White House in late February focus on improving the workings of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. For instance, they direct PTO to work with companies, experts, and the general public to help determine whether an invention is truly novel and eligible for a patent.

Other new initiatives include increased training to help patent examiners keep up with changing technologies and expanded pro bono assistance programs for inventors who lack legal representation.

Patent lawyers say attempts to improve the patent examination process are long overdue. “The reality is that PTO has been a hidebound and inbred bureaucracy for way too many years,” says Kendrew H. Colton, a partner at Fitch, Even, Tabin & Flannery.

But the U.S. patent system is complex; improving it is no simple task. “The challenge is what to do,” Colton says, “because each change affects something else in the process.”

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