A campaign to combat abusive patent trolls will soon take to Minnesota’s airwaves.
The Main Street Patent Coalition starts running a radio spot in the Twin Cities on WCCO and KSTP on Monday featuring owners of a mom-and-pop restaurant discussing the threat patent trolls and their frivolous lawsuits pose to small businesses.
The ad is paid for by the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation, part of the recently launched Main Street Patent Coalition that is urging Congress to act on patent reform legislation.
Patent trolls try to collect licensing fees from people or companies they claim are infringing on patent rights. Typically, vague and aggressive demand letters threaten litigation.
On Thursday, the White House announced that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was taking new steps to curb abusive lawsuits. National Economic Council director Gene Sperling said that patent troll lawsuits rose from 29 percent of all infringement suits to 62 percent in a two-year period. He called it “a dead weight loss” for the economy.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson last summer settled with MPHJ Technology Investments LLC after accusing it of trying to shake down hundreds of Minnesota companies on claims they were infringing on patent rights by using basic office scanners.
The Main Street Patent Coalition called Sen. Patrick Leahy’s, D-Vt., Patent Transparency and Improvements Act “a positive first step” but said it needs to be stronger. It’s pushing for legislation that, among other things, would prevent the ability of trolls to hide behind shell corporations, make it easier to punish trolls and require them to sue the party responsible for any alleged infringement, not an end user.
Numerous Minnesotans have joined in, writing letters to U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, urging action on patent trolls.
Marshall MacKay, head of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota, said in a Feb. 13 letter that community banks have been increasingly targeted by the frivolous lawsuits over the last decade.
“In one case they went after a small-business man for attaching a PDF file to an e-mail,” MacKay said in an interview.
While momentum for reform mounts, the American Intellectual Property Law Association has cautioned that reforms should be focused and not impede on legitimate licensing activities.
In a Senate hearing on the problem in December, the association’s executive director, Todd Dickinson, said he thinks patent trolls are a consumer fraud issue that’s “best dealt with by those traditionally tasked with combating it, such as the FTC and the state attorneys general.”
Dickinson could not be reached Friday for comment.