Federal Trade Commission Wants to Get Tough on Bad Patents

Using intellectual property as a form of harassment is on the rise in the US and Europe, and there seems to be no stopping it. US patent laws were last revised in 1952 and many industry leaders claim that they are not relevant to business today.

The Federal Trade Commission is teaming up with Cisco, Intel, eBay, Microsoft, Genetech and others to form a working group to find a solution to the problem of anti-competitive patents and to make the US patent system more equipped to deal with technical patents.

FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson announced the group after a high-level conference on patent reform, Ideas into Action – though the group is yet to be given a name.

Companies and individuals “troll” by exploiting vague patents to either prevent competitors from operating in a particular field or for extracting “license fees” for technologies that may only be distantly related to intellectual property actually in question. Often patent harassment is the sole revenue stream for a company.

3,000 patent examiners in the US handle 350,000 patent applications per year, allowing an average of 17 to 25 hours to check whether a patent application is valid or not. This means that a lot of nonsense gets through – academic studies claim that 95% of all US patents should not have been issued in the first place. Japan and Europe still have a poor showing at 65%.

The FTC wants to make it easier to challenge a patent with the Patent Office without having to go to court, and to limit the award of treble damages in cases.

Ideas Into Action

The Federal Trade Commission

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?