On December 5, 2013, the House of Representatives did something strange. It passed a bill that helped American businesses.
In response, the Senate did something decidedly more familiar: it killed the bill.
The 2013 Innovation Act was a Patent Reform bill that sought to begin fixing an problem that often flies under the radar: frivolous lawsuits brought by patent trolls.
To the unschooled, frivolous lawsuits may not sound like a pressing matter in the larger context of the many issues that require the government’s attention. But patent trolls are a pernicious threat. Patent trolls limit the ability of companies to protect their intellectual property and discourage potentially lifesaving research and development.
Under current laws, bringing a patent lawsuit against a corporation is an inexpensive endeavor. This was deliberate so that individual innovators would have protections against large corporations looking to exploit their ingenuity. But today these protections are abhorrently misused.
Patent trolls are equal opportunity leeches— that is, they ambush businesses both large and small. Hundreds and hundreds of frivolous lawsuits are brought annually by companies that don’t actually make or sell any products, against companies as large as Google and Pfizer to the smallest of startups.
Despite the fact that these cases are nearly always dismissed when the patent holders fight back, defending against them is prohibitively expensive in both time and money. As a result, patent holders are forced to settle the cases out of court in the name of living to fight another day.