Patent trolls have been a growing problem for all types of businesses, and real estate companies haven’t been spared. Recently, a patent troll sent thousands of letters through several affiliated legal entities to brokerages and other companies threatening lawsuits for using multifunction office machines (copier, scanner, and fax machine, all in one) for which it owns patents. The company has since retreated a bit, in part because of claims that have been filed with regulators challenging the scope of its patents, but the broader problem persists.
For that reason, NAR joined with dozens of other organizations in a letter to federal lawmakers today, calling on them to move forcefully against this type of abusive business practice. (Patent trolls purchase broad patents and then make money by requiring users to pay a licensing fee for using products or services that allegedly use the patented technology or face a lawsuit.)
“Managing frivolous patent suits unfortunately has become an expensive distraction for a large cross section of American businesses,” the groups say in the letter. “Instead of focusing on innovation, job creation, and economic growth, we are forced to deal with legal games that have serious consequences.”
Several lawmakers have introduced legislation to curb patent abuses, and President Obama has also moved on the administrative front, but comprehensive legislation is really what’s required to curb the practice. And that’s what NAR is calling for in the letter with its partners. “Meaningful reforms . . . would make it more difficult for patent trolls to continue their destructive business model,” the groups say.
It will be a challenging road for the industry to get these abusive practices behind it, but the word is getting out that change is needed, and that’s an important start.
For questions about this issue, send an e-mail to NAR policy analyst Melanie Wyne at email@example.com.
Robert Freedman is manager of multimedia communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.