Congress and trolls: who's feeding whom?

Trolls and trial lawyers are gaining the upper hand in Washington, as congress once again considers a bill that was originally aimed at stopping abusive demand letters from legal bottom feeders. According to an article in Ars Technica, a house subcommittee watered down provisions that would have created penalties for trolls that keep sending reams of bogus patent infringement letters in the hopes that a few people and businesses will simply pay up, rather than fight

For instance, the bill would only ban demand letters sent in “bad faith,” which will make enforcement actions harder. “Regardless of the intention of the sender, misrepresentations or omissions can be harmful to consumers,” the letter points out.

The bill also requires that offenders show a “pattern of practice” of sending demand letters, which UFPR says is ambiguous language that leaves unclear how many letters need to be sent. UFPR also objects to an “affirmative defense” allowed in the bill, which could let patent owners off the hook if they show that deceptive statements in their letters were honest mistakes.

Finally, there’s no requirement in the bill that a demand letter state what claims are supposedly being infringed.

It’s become an annual ritual: business and free speech groups propose slapping down trolls, a few congress critters agree to help, a few more oppose them and nothing happens. Except that plenty of favors were done for potential campaign contributors on both sides of the issue. Meanwhile, the trolls keep merrily sending out letters, costing businesses – and, consequently, their customers – millions of dollars a year.