Senators enjoy a clubbing from patent trolls

Patent reform legislation is dead in Washington right now, killed by senate majority leader Harry Reid as a favor to trial lawyers, who have given him as much as $4 million in campaign contributions in the past 5 years, and pharmaceutical companies. The senate has backed off from anti-troll measures passed last year by a wide, bipartisan majority in the house.

The heart of the package was a loser-pay provision, which would have given judges the power to make patent trolls pay defence costs when the verdict goes against them. That alone was enough to make the predatory bar foam at the mouth, and the fear that the concept could spread to other sorts of viciously frivolous lawsuits sent them howling through the corridors of congress.

Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, an earlier advocate for new patent enforcement rules, says he took the issue off the agenda of the judiciary committee, which he chairs…

Unfortunately, there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions.

Translation: this is an election year and we need the money.

Other reforms in the package – letting manufacturers defend people who buy their products in good faith and preventing trolls from hiding behind corporate shells, for example – would pose little or no burden for universities or companies with honest patent claims.

There’s one measure still in play. A proposal to curb demand letters – mass mailings threatening small businesses with law suits if they don’t pay the troll – might move forward as a substitute, although it’s expected to run into the same and likely fatal opposition.