Leahy on patent trolls, licensing on reasonable terms

In a May 9, 2012 hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight of the intellectual property enforcement coordinator, Senator Leahy asked Victoria Espinel about patent trolls, and failures to license patents on reasonable terms to achieve interoperability where standards are important. Leahy asked Victoria Espinel to work with USDOJ’s antitrust officials to deal with abuses by patent holders in both cases.

Victoria Espinel, a former Bush Administration appointee at USTR, was appointed by the Obama Administration as the new United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator for the Office of Management and Budget. It was an awkward moment in the hearing, because Victoria Espinel really has no role in curbing abuses of patent rights, or even in shaping the broader issues of patent policy, other than those relating specifically to enforcement. She is one of several officials now populating federal agencies that have the word “enforcement” closely connected with intellectual property in their job title.

Espinel offered that “she would be happy to reach out to the Department of Justice” and work with Senator Leahy on abuses of patent rights.

The notion that the federal government needs to consistently evaluate the performance of the intellectual property system is not one that has taken root within the Obama Administration, and it has few advocates in the Congress. Leahy’s brief queries on patent trolls and on the failures to license patents for purposes of interoperabiity of technologies endorsed by standard setting organizations were a welcome acknowledge that not all is well with the patent system, and it stood out like a sore thumb in an afternoon where Senators fell over themselves to express their support for greater public investments and new and more aggressive legal sanctions and powers for the enforcement of intellectual property rights.