US tech firms team up to fight patent trolls

Google, Intel and Amazon are among those supporting the High Tech Innovators Alliance

A collection of the world's largest technology companies have teamed up to form a lobbying group in an effort to push through rules that would make it more difficult for patent trolls to operate in the US.

The High Tech Innovators Alliance (HTIA) has already received the backing of eight US tech firms  Adobe, Amazon, Cisco, Dell, Google, Intel, Oracle  and Salesforce who are offering financial support and expertise.

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"A well-functioning patent system can protect investments in R&D, and our members collectively own over 115,000 US patents," said the group, in a formal mission statement. "But when the patent system does not function well, it undermines rather than supports innovation to the detriment of all Americans - inventors, employees, investors in productive businesses and ultimately, consumers."

"HTIA supports balanced reforms in the Patent and Trademark Office, the courts and Congress that address the root causes of these problems while advancing a patent system that promotes investment in new technologies and American jobs."

The group argues that the "scourge of patent troll litigation" is stifling technology innovation and will be lobbying to pass rules that will protect companies that fall victim to "baseless patent assertions".

'Patent trolls', formally known as non-practicing entities (NPEs), are typically individuals or companies that scoop up cheap patents from bankrupt tech firms, and aggressively target any other companies that appear to infringe on their portfolio.

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Unlike patent disputes in Europe, where the losing side pays for the fees of both parties, US law requires that each party pay their own share of legal fees. This means that companies will typically opt to settle a case rather than face a court hearing, even if there is no legitimate claim.

The group's aims include making litigation "fair and efficient", which would force patent owners to explain in detail their allegations when filing a complaint, and would shift the legal cost burden to the losing party.

Over $63 billion has been collectively spent by the group on R&D over the past year, which is estimated to hold around 115,000 US patents. According to 2016 figures, almost 90% of all patent lawsuits were patent troll related. 

A first priority for HTIA will be to support the Inter Partes Review (IPR) program set up under the American Invents Act in 2011, which was created to give companies a route to highlight illegitimate patent claims directly to the Patent and Trademark Office.

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