Main Street business organizations, including the retail federation, are pushing legislators for reforms.
The House in December of last year passed the Innovation Act to discourage patent asserting groups from abusive practices, though the legislation stalled in the Senate.
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee was tentatively scheduled to mark up a bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The newly proposed legislation may include provisions that mirror the House's Innovation Act. Those provisions were introduced by Sen.John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Many Main Street businesses—including restaurants, grocers and hotels—are pushing for reform because they say patent abuse has created an innovation tax on their businesses and start-ups.
Prominent tech inventors also are seeking reform, including Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder; Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook co-founder; and Ranganathan Krishnan, former principal engineer at Qualcomm.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of plaintiffs legitimately trying to protect intellectual property.
But current U.S. patent rules allow aggressive plaintiffs to legally use vague language in threatening letters to defendants. The upshot is a busy small-business owner is more likely to settle and write a check to make the problem go away. And really, entrepreneurs say, who has time or money to find a patent attorney when so many pressing issues loom—such as rising health-care costs and higher minimum wages?
"It's cheaper to settle. And that's why the troll business model works," says Benjamin Lennett, senior research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Open Technology Institute. "Most of these trolls are not the original owner of the patent," Lennett said. The trolls "either purchased the patent or are asserting on other's behalf."
And in many of the suits, experts note, a deeper dive reveals businesses targeted in so-called demand letters aren't even using the technology in question. They're basically spam letters from trolls, ranging from individuals to larger outfits.
Trolls "go fishing and if they throw out enough nets, they're going to get a fish," said Hollywood, Fla-based Sinewitz.
Said Samuels of the tech advocate group Engine: "This behavior is nothing short of extortion. It's like the mafia frankly."