The National Association of Realtors is joining a group that wants to fight what it calls patent trolling.

United for Patent Reform includes Google, Facebook, Amazon and Verizon, and trade groups like the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association. 

“NAR has joined the United for Patent Reform coalition along with a diverse group of American businesses to pursue comprehensive solutions to abusive patent litigation, which costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars every year,” said NAR president Chris Polychron. “As a member of United for Patent Reform, NAR reinforces our efforts to protect Realtors from so-called patent trolls who can drag unsuspecting real estate professionals into expensive and time-consuming litigation."

Polychron says that reform is crucial as Realtors have become targets of frivolous patent infringement lawsuits for their everyday business practices, such as using scanner-copiers and adding user-friendly online search features to their websites. 

Patent trolls buy patents for products they didn't invent or manufacture, and file lawsuits against those using them in an attempt for a pay-out. 

Critics of patent reform, however, say it could harm innovation and small businesses, allowing larger companies and organizations like the members of United for Patent Reform to stifle small, upstart competitors.

NAR says that many businesses are forced to choose between not offering new features or potentially paying tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and displacing other activities like hiring people, research or expansion. 

“Trolls are exploiting the patent system at the expense of Realtors and other professionals who provide services that fuel the American economy; the problem has grown out of control,” he said. “Along with the United for Patent Reform coalition, NAR will continue to advocate for commonsense patent litigation reform that fosters innovation and investment while benefitting the entire American economy.”

The members of the United for Patent Reform group said that they are supporting seven legislative measures to reign in patent trolling.

Those prospective measures are:

  • Reform Abusive Demand Letters: Require that patent demand letters include truthful, basic information. Patent trolls send vague and deceptive letters alleging patent infringement to demand unjustified payments from innocent individuals and businesses. Vague demand letters should not be used to bully innocent businesses into paying what amounts to protection money.
  • Make Trolls Explain Their Claims: Require patent owners to explain in detail the basis for the alleged infringement when they file a complaint. Current law does not require that a patent holder explain how a patent is infringed, or even identify the product involved, which makes it nearly impossible for someone who has been sued to evaluate the case and decide how to proceed.
  • Protect Innocent Customers: Ensure that claims between a patent owner and a manufacturer proceed before claims between the patent owner and the manufacturer’s end users. Under current law, anyone can be sued for infringement for simply using a product, system or method.  We don’t want to change that.  Instead, it simply makes sense for cases against end users to be stayed in favor of cases involving the manufacturer.
  • Make Patent Litigation More Efficient: Make patent litigation more efficient so that weak cases can be dismissed before expensive discovery. Requiring patentees to explain and judges to decide what a patent means at the beginning of a case—the Markman hearing—narrows the case to the actual legal issues in question, drives early resolutions, and avoids unnecessary and expensive discovery.
  • Stop Discovery Abuses: Require trolls to pay for the discovery they request beyond core documents so that they cannot run up costs just to force a settlement. Since trolls don’t actually make or create anything, they have few documents to produce and no incentive to be reasonable in their discovery requests. Making trolls responsible for the costs of their discovery requests that go beyond the core documents needed to decide most patent issues will stop unreasonable demands made for negotiation leverage.
  • Make Abusive Trolls Pay: Require that a losing party who brings a frivolous case pay the other side’s attorney’s fees—and make sure the troll can pay. Trolls currently have few barriers to litigation with no significant costs. A stronger presumptive fee-shifting statute and a mechanism to ensure court ordered fee shifting is enforceable will deter nuisance suits.
  • Provide Less Expensive Alternatives: Maintain and improve administrative alternatives to litigation. Ensuring access to efficient and fair mechanisms to re-examine questionable patents, by among other things not watering down the PTO’s existing standards, will reduce litigation abuses and strengthen the patent system.