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Scores of profs give hated US patent law an F minus, demand massive rewrite

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A group of 60 or so US law professors have publicly backed an effort to overhaul the US patent system.

The brainy gang, who signed a letter published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, asks lawmakers to step up efforts to reform patent law and the system for which patent holders can file suit for allegations of infringement.

In the letter [PDF], the professors argue that the patent litigation system is in need of an overhaul in order to halt the endless legal battles, particularly those launched by a new class of firms known as patent assertion entities (PAEs) – more commonly known by the moniker "patent trolls."

The professors argue that the high costs of defending infringement cases are being exploited by the PAEs to strong-arm smaller companies into agreeing to patent licensing deals.

"Because PAEs do not make or sell any products of their own, they cannot be countersued for infringement. As a result, PAEs can use the high cost of patent litigation to their advantage," the letter explains.

"They can sue, threaten to impose large discovery costs that overwhelmingly fall on the accused infringer, and thereby extract settlements from their targets that primarily reflect a desire to avoid the cost of fighting, rather than the chance and consequences of actually losing the suit."

The academics go on to argue that in order to help protect companies from being overwhelmed by patent infringement claims, reforms need to be introduced to cover matters such as penalizing frivolous infringement suits, lowering the cost of defending against suits, and requiring plaintiffs to be more specific in filing their infringement claims.

"In short, high litigation costs and a widespread lack of transparency in the patent system together make abusive patent enforcement a common occurrence both in and outside the technology sector," the letter reads.

"As a result, billions of dollars that might otherwise be used to hire and retain employees, to improve existing products, and to launch new products are, instead, diverted to socially wasteful litigation."

Among the signees are professors from the Stanford, Notre Dame, Denver, and New York University schools of law, as well as a number of additional law schools throughout the US.

The effort is part of an ongoing campaign to bring an overhaul to the US patent system. Business owners and entrepreneurs have been particularly vocal in stating the need for reform, as well as user rights advocates.

Currently, the US House of Representatives is looking to address the matter with the Innovation Act, a bill that could curb the abuse of patent laws and help to provide firms with relief against patent infringement claims. ®

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