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Pennsylvania Senate to Consider Patent Troll Bill

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

In the continuing quest to limit or prevent patent “trolls” from filing frivolous lawsuits against alleged infringers, state legislatures are jumping into the mix and proposing state laws to discourage or prohibit this kind of conduct. Pennsylvania is among the latest to join this bandwagon. PA Senate Bill No. 1222, introduced on February 4, 2014 is an effort to limit and discourage frivolous patent infringement lawsuits. However, given the scope of the bill, and the potential conflicts with federal law, there are serious questions as to both the wisdom of the approach it takes and whether this bill will ever become law.

The Language of the Bill

Bill No. 1222 purports to prohibit bad faith assertions of patent infringement. (Section 3(a)). It allows a target of a demand letter, someone threatened with patent infringement, or a defendant in a patent infringement lawsuit to bring an action in state court (the court of common pleas) for bad faith. (Section 5(b)). If the court determines that there is a reasonable likelihood that the patentee has threatened or is litigating a patent infringement claim in bad faith, the court can require the patentee to post a bond to cover the target’s legal costs and damages, but not to exceed $250,000. (Section 4). In addition, among the possible remedies are equitable relief, damages, costs and fees, and exemplary damages of $50,000 or three times the total damages, costs, and fees, whichever is greater. (Section 5(b)).

Under the bill, the following factors may be considered as evidence that a patentee is bringing a bad faith claim of patent infringement (Section 3(b)):

In contrast, the following factors may be considered as evidence that the patentee is not bringing a bad faith claim of patent infringement (Section 3(c)):

Thoughts About the Merit of This Bill

Determinations of whether a patent infringement claim has been brought in good or bad faith will necessarily require a significant analysis of the underlying merits of the claim, including claim construction and the intricacies of infringement and invalidity issues. State courts have never had to deal with these issues before because federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) to hear all patent cases. Thus, this bill would place state courts in uncharted and complex waters that they have never had to deal with.

In addition, this bill purports to extend not just to demand letters sent by patentees, but also filed patent infringement lawsuits (which must be in federal court). It is unclear how state courts are to be addressing issues being litigated in federal court and what power a state court has to interfere with those parallel proceedings. One would think that a federal court that is handling the lawsuit is in a far better position to assess the good or bad faith of a patentee’s claims.

While it is a laudable goal to create disincentives to filing frivolous lawsuits, this bill seems particularly ill suited to this goal. We will be following this bill as it progresses, and will report on its progress.

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