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Five senators urge Commerce chief to improve patent system
WASHINGTON (8/15/14)--Five senators have written to the U.S. Department of Commerce Patent and Trademark Office urging it to reduce abusive "patent troll" lawsuits. The letter, signed by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.),  pushes for the office to improve the patent process by limiting low-quality, vague patents.
"While it is important that our legal system uphold the rights of intellectual property owners to enforce those rights in court, abusive litigation raises questions about whether too many illegitimate patents are being issued, whether vague patents are being stretched to cover ideas never envisioned by the patent holder and whether more can be done to protect our intellectual property regime from being misused," the senators wrote.
The lawmakers expressed appreciation for the Patent and Trademark office renewed focus on improving patent quality over the past year and encouraged the office to use its other tools to prevent low-quality patents.
The letter suggests the Patent and Trademark Office should:
  • Continually review and assess the operation examiner management system and performance metrics already in place to ensure they incentivize quality over quantity, and that examiner evaluation is not improperly incentivizing approval of low-quality patents;
  • Direct examiners how to ensure complete applications records so any ambiguity in the initial process is documented and resolved. Applications files should provide a clear history of clarified terms and original intent so an approved patent cannot later be twisted to cover future inventions;
  • Determine whether the functional claiming measures are addressing concerns that functional claiming provides a loophole from definite, precise claims and that not all functional claims are held to the relevant standards;
  • Expand the use of crowdsourcing and data analysis to identify types of patents and specific characteristics that are most likely to give rise to ambiguity and produce litigation risk. These areas should be specifically targeted for stronger measures; and
  • Ensure public access to information about patents and their histories, especially the publicly searchable information on the Patent and Trademark Office's website.
The legislators say the overall goal is to address abusive legal actions, while "continuing to encourage innovation and technological advancement."
The Credit Union National Association has urged lawmakers to act to curb the patent system abuses, saying reforms are desperately needed. CUNA and the state credit union leagues have been active on every level urging lawmakers and the Obama administration address patent reform.
Use the resource link below to access the full letter.

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