Patent trolls, the non-practicing entities that buy up large patent portfolios for the sole purpose of suing other companies, have long been the bane of many tech companies. And according to the Wall Street Journal, it looks as though the United States Department of Justice’s antitrust division may be ready to do something to limit patent trolls’ ability to extract licensing fees. In particular, the Journal quotes former DOJ acting antitrust chief Joseph Wayland, who said that officials in the agency are devoting “huge energy, particularly at a senior level” to figuring out whether patent trolls pose competitive threats to technology markets. The Journal’s report is unclear, however, on what actions the DOJ or the Federal Trade Commission would take if they found that patent trolls were bad for competition.
Relatedly, Google (GOOG) general counsel Kent Walker this week wrote an opinion piece for Wired urging the government to take decisive action to make patent trolling less profitable. Among other things, Walker said the government should raise standards for software patents to include more specifics about functionality, be more aggressive in searching for and tossing out poorly-written patents, and develop “clearer rules for damages and awarding costs.” Google and Cisco (CSCO) have both been outspoken critics of the American patent system and have singled out the role of patent trolls in allegedly stifling innovation.