The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office should consider looking into patent lawsuits and its own data to improve patent quality and examination.
That’s the broad conclusion of a patent report released by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO conducted the study because of concerns from tech companies, Congress and others about the rising number of lawsuits initiated by so-called “patent trolls,” companies that buy patents from others for the sole purpose of asserting the patents for profit.
The issue is of interest to radio because of the ongoing patent litigation between DigiMedia and several radio groups. DigiMedia claims the radio groups have infringed on its patents for music storage and automation systems, which the radio groups deny.
From 2000 to 2010, the number of patent infringement lawsuits in the federal courts fluctuated only slightly and from 2010 to 2011, they increased by a third, according to the GAO. Some of the rise could be explained by the anticipation of changes in the 2011 Leahy-Smith Invents Act, which made several changes to the U.S. patent system, including limiting the number of defendants in a lawsuit. That caused some who would have previously filed one suit to file multiple suits, according to the findings.
However, the GAO found that patent trolls brought only about one-fifth of the patent infringement lawsuits and that companies that make products accounted for the bulk of the litigation. Software-related patents accounted for about 89% of the increase.
Stakeholders told the GAO many of the software-related patent lawsuits are over unclear property rights and many such patents have overly broad or unclear claims or both.
The GAO notes that the Patent Office has taken steps to improve patent quality and reduce litigation. We’ve reported several patent reform bills in Congress aim to curb abuse by patent trolls.
Public Knowledge said the report “reinforces White House and public interest claims that patent abusers are taking advantage of innovators at an increasing rate,” according to Charles Duan, director of Public Knowledge’s Patent Reform Project. He said the report highlights the complexities and inconsistencies of patent litigation, “which demonstrates the need for broad and universal reform. It furthermore identifies numerous areas for improvements in patent quality to protect innovators and access to technology.”