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TROL Act passes House commerce committee

A narrow bill targeting abusive patent demand letters was voted out of the House energy and commerce committee on a 30-22 vote.

Authored by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.), chairman of the commerce, manufacturing and trade subcommittee, The Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters (TROL) Act has had a rough time getting full support from Democrats and from a broad coalition of businesses including advertising, restaurants, and retailers, pushing for patent reform legislation.

The bill requires demand letters to be more transparent and accountable under the Federal Trade Commission’s definition of an unfair and deceptive practice and allows the FTC and state attorneys generals to levy fines.

But many of supporters of patent reform, including the United for Patent Reform coalition, oppose the bill, arguing it has too many loopholes in the bill and doesn’t do enough to protect businesses. Democrats have criticized the bill for undoing stronger measures already in place in 21 states and for requiring the FTC to prove “bad faith” to show that a sender knowingly made false or deceptive statements.

“[The TROL Act] is an honest attempt,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, ranking member of the subcommittee. “I’m interested in finding a solution. Unfortunately, the current version does not appropriately address the issue…. We should to pre-empt state laws with a weaker, federal standard.”

The bill could be rendered moot by two comprehensive patent reform bills introduced by the House and Senate judiciary committees. The Senate bill also tackles patent demand letters, which could get rolled into a final, comprehensive bill.