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Google leaps on patent reform bandwagon

If reform is the right word

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Today, some of the biggest names in high-tech have their eyes on the nation's capital, where lawmakers are babbling about an overhaul of the U.S. patent system.

After years of lobbying from companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Intel, the Senate Judiciary Committee has pulled together a very official hearing called "Patent Reform: The Future of American Innovation." Chairman Patick Leahy and his crew are debating the Patent Reform Act of 2007, a bipartisan bill introduced this spring in both the Senate and the House. The bill may turn up on the floor of the House as early as tomorrow.

Earlier this week, Google went public with its support of the bill, chucking a post onto its new public policy blog. The search engine cum world power is sick and tired of patent trolls, companies intent on using their patents to siphon money from other businesses.

"Unfortunately, the patent system has not kept pace with the changes in the innovation economy," wrote Johanna Shelton, Google policy counsel and legislative strategist, and Michelle Lee, the company's head of patents and patent strategy. "Google and other technology companies increasingly face mounting legal costs to defend against frivolous patent claims from parties gaming the system to forestall competition or reap windfall profits."

As a new member of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, a lobbying group whose membership reads like a who's who of the tech industry, Google has put its weight behind the Patent Reform bill as a whole, but there's a handful of issues the search giant is particularly excited about.

First off, it hopes to change the way courts award damages in patent cases. If a small portion of a product infringes someone else's patent, it believes, damages shouldn't reflect the value of the product as a whole. "A windshield wiper found to an infringe a patent should not spur a damage award based on the value of the entire car," Google said.

Along the same lines, the Mountain Viewers argue the courts should think twice before ruling that a company has "willfully" infringed a patent - a decision that warrants triple the damages. "That standard has been devalued. Punitive triple damages should be reserved for cases of truly egregious conduct."

Google also wants "post-grant review," which involves a quick reappraisal of questionable patents by the U.S. Patent Office, and a restriction on "forum shopping," which allows patent trolls file their cases with the most patent-troll-friendly courts. "The bipartisan Patent Reform Act would achieve many of these goals in a fair and targeted manner," Shelton and Lee wrote. "These reforms will go a long way toward modernizing the patent law system to ensure it continues as an engine for economic growth and innovation."

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