How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Robots Take my Job

GAO Goes Hunting for Patent Trolls.

The Government Accountability Office is looking for a tool to help track the volume of patent infringement litigation and to sort out who’s bringing the cases, according to solicitation documents.

The solicitation arose from a provision in the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which tasked GAO with conducting a study “on the consequences of patent litigation by ‘non-practicing entities.’ ”

By non-practicing entities, they mean patent trolls -- people and organizations that buy up patents not because they want to produce anything but in order to sue other people for violating them. Patent litigation can be so expensive the organizations being sued will often pay a settlement fee rather than fight it out even if there’s no strong evidence of infringement.

The practice is particularly common in the tech industry.

The proposed tool should allow GAO to “describe the total number of patent infringement lawsuits filed between 2001 and 2011 in all federal district courts and to describe key plaintiff and defendant characteristics for a sample of patent infringement lawsuits between 2007 and 2011.”

This solicitation hits close to home because I briefly covered litigation, including patent litigation, for a legal news website before coming to Nextgov. We spent the first part of the day at the website sifting through federal court filings looking for stories and spent the rest of the day writing about them. Sifting for intellectual property stories was especially arduous because the docket was full of dozens or hundreds of filings from just a handful of people accusing everyone from Google to Lockheed Martin Corp. to Best Buy of violating the same patent. It was usually a patent for something broad and innocuous like “a system for transferring information using silicon chips.”

That’s one job I won’t mind computers taking over.

In other patent news, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may be in the market for an end-to-end system that will support processing patents from their initial filing to publication, according to a separate request for information.

The proposed system would also convert patent applications from scanned TIFF files to machine readable XML files, according to the RFI.